Tuesday, September 6, 2016

European Stocks Open Higher As Oil Prices Hold Gains

By Arjun Kharpal and Holly Ellyatt
September 6, 2016

European stocks opened higher on Tuesday with oil prices holding firm following gains in the previous session.

The pan-European STOXX 600 was up 0.21 percent.

Oil In Focus

Brent crude prices were steady on Tuesday following Monday's rally as other oil producers welcomed an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia to stabilize the oil market.

Oil prices rallied after the major producers confirmed they had agreed to cooperate to stabilize the oil market and limit output, although experts largely dismissed the statement from the two major oil producers as "lip service."

Oil prices rallied by up to 5 percent ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia signing a joint statement but Brent and WTI crude futures pared gains after the statement, which failed to promise the much-touted-but-never-delivered freeze to crude production.

In Asia on Tuesday, shares traded mixed and in a tight range as investors looked ahead to the Reserve Bank of Australia's rate-setting meeting.

Stocks To Watch

In European corporate news, German drugmaker Bayer is hoping that a sweetened takeover offer will win over U.S. seed producer Monsanto, putting more than $65 billion on the table in a bid to buy the agro-chemical firm. Bayer said it was in advanced talks with its rival and would be prepared to offer $127.50 per Monsanto share from its previous offer price of $125 per share only in connection with a negotiated deal, Reuters reported.

British retailer Sports Direct has asked its legal adviser to carry out a further review of its working practices, including examining its corporate governance, after facing a slew of criticism this year over the amount it pays workers.

Easyjet reported that the number of passengers using its service in August was 7.5 million versus 7.1 million a year ago.

Statoil announced that it had increased its share in the Wisting discovery, an oil field in Norway.

Deutsche Telekom denied a report by German newspaper Handelsblatt that it is considering restructuring which could include thousands of job cuts, calling the story "nonsense".

Aegon announced that its chief financial officer Darryl Button is stepping down and returning to the U.S. after 17 years with the Dutch financial services company. Aegon said the selection process for his successor has begun.

Banks Eyed

The banking sector is once again in focus for investors. In Italy, JPMorgan and other banks are trying to convince Qatar and Kuwait's sovereign wealth funds to buy a large part of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena's (BMPS) cash call.

Meanwhile, Sky News reported that Santander's U.K. arm is looking to buy credit card giant MBNA. Separately, Barclays raised its price target for Santander and BBVA.

Elsewhere, U.S. President Barack Obama has canceled a meeting with the President of Philippines' at the ASEAN summit in Laos after the leader threatened to swear at the president, saying he is no American puppet.

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No Defense For Trigger Warnings

By Jonathan Marks
September 6, 2016

Not long ago, my eleven-year-old son jokingly asked me if I had been “triggered” by something his older brother had said. A term that has its origins in the study of post-traumatic stress disorder is evidently now common currency for the eleven year old set.

The University of Chicago recently has won both praise and criticism for a letter it sent to first-year students informing them that, among other things, the college did not favor “trigger warnings.” In a university classroom, such warnings flag course content that students might find traumatic. At Oberlin College, for example, a resource guide advised professors “Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read. However, it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

It’s important to note that this guide was discarded because faculty at Oberlin vehemently opposed it. Oberlin is among the most left-leaning of all of our colleges and universities, so those who worry that such warnings are sweeping our universities and that professors have given up on challenging their students probably have less to worry about than they think.

At the same time, some critics of the University’s stance are being disingenuous about trigger warnings. In what can only be described as a screed directed at the University of Chicago’s position, Kevin Gannon of Grand View University asks: “If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do?”

But, as my eleven year old could tell you, the idea of triggering is today detached from its roots in the psychology of post-traumatic stress disorder. Advocates of trigger warnings are not only or primarily sufferers from that condition or people who want to help them. Consider the students at Columbia who made an ultimately unsuccessful bid to include trigger warnings in Columbia’s Core Curriculum. They were concerned with the broad question of “transgressions concerning student identities” and the “impacts that the Western canon has had and continues to have on marginalized groups.” The students, while in no way denying that the principles undergirding Western civilization have “been liberating in many ways” want instructors “more consistently [to] acknowledge during class discussions that many of these same principles have created an unjust, unequal, and oppressive existence for many.” I don’t take these students to be villains or fanatics and there is no reason to think that discussions of the West should whitewash it, though it hardly seems likely that a curriculum that includes Rousseau, Marx, Fanon, Du Bois, and Foucault actually does so. But we should not pretend that the debate over trigger warnings is about whether or not we should show compassion or concern for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Also disingenuous, not to say disgraceful, is the attempt to dismiss critics of trigger warnings as right wingers, as Yale’s Jim Sleeper has done in Sunday’s New York Times. Sleeper goes after Greg Lukianoff and the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as part of an irrational conservative backlash against universities. Sleeper’s reasoning goes like this. Donald Trump has attacked political correctness. Greg Lukianoff has attacked political correctness. So Greg Lukianoff is Donald Trump. I’m joking only a little—Sleeper says that Trump’s “rampages” are “just like” FIRE’s attacks on political correctness. Lukianoff who describes himself as a liberal, “a former A.C.L.U. person who worked in refugee camps,” is cast as a conservative, even though his organization defends left wing as well as right wing speech because, well, some conservatives like what he has to say. I suppose that means that President Obama, Michael Bloomberg, Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Chait, the American Association of University Professors, and others once thought to be part of the middle or middle left are in fact part of a right-wing spin machine.

There is a debate on the left about trigger warnings, safe spaces and all the rest, but Sleeper’s ritual invocation of “conservatives” tells us that academics need not listen to the arguments. If “conservatives” doesn’t do the trick, Sleeper’s mention of the “Koch brothers” (gasp!), from whom FIRE had the audacity to accept money, surely will. Sleeper and others who take his line insist that they are merely in favor of protecting robust debate within the academy from conservative outsiders who threaten it. But their attempt falsely to paint opponents of trigger warnings as conservative tools signals to the left-leaning academy that they need pay no attention to the arguments against trigger warnings.

I suppose that’s the point.

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Saudi Arabia Wants To Roll Back Iran

Containment is no longer good enough.

By Arash Reisinezhad
The National Interest
September 6, 2016

On July 9, Prince Turki bin Faisal, former Saudi intelligence head, unprecedentedly attended a rally for the notorious Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK) and called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His remarks were immediately followed on July 30 by a meeting between the head of the MEK, Maryam Rajavi, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Paris. Earlier before, in late March, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), which has not taken up arms against Iran for roughly twenty years, suddenly waged a vicious insurgency against Tehran, leading to bloody skirmishes between the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian Kurdish peshmerga in northwestern Iran. These sequential events herald a new era in confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh.

The growing escalation between Tehran and Riyadh has been sometimes mentioned in the context of a new geopolitical “Great Game.” Both countries have been engaged in a decades-long strategic contest for regional supremacy in an area stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Arabian seas. The two powers are backing different sides in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and finally Yemen.

In the pre-9/11 era, Saudi Arabia used to regionally contain Iran and its foreign policy of “exporting the revolution” by siding with the Baath regime of Baghdad and later with Kabul’s Taliban. Despite grave ideological differences, Riyadh’s leaders backed Saddam Hussein in the bloody eight-year war with Iran. Rooted in King Faisal’s financial support for the extension of Wahhabism in Pakistan and then backing the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–89), the Saudis had also a key role in establishing the fundamentalist Taliban in Kabul. By the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia’s achievements in containing Iran reached their peak.

9/11 and President Bush’s ensuing global war on terror overthrew the regimes in Kabul and Baghdad. With the downfall of the Baath and Taliban, Riyadh lost its traditional strategic trump cards in containing the alleged Iranian threat. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the power vacuum in Iraq disentangled Iran from its direct regional threats. To contain Iran’s growing power in the region, Riyadh and its regional allies exaggerated Tehran’s imminent regional hegemony in the Middle East. Late in 2004, King Abdullah of Jordan coined a controversial phrase that still dominates the heart of Middle East geopolitics: the Shia Crescent. “If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government,” the Washington Post paraphrased, “a new ‘crescent’ of dominant Shia movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon could emerge to alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to U.S. interests and allies.” For Riyadh, Iran considered the alleged Shia Crescent as a bedrock of its newfound regional power, shattering down a long-term dominant regional order and posing an existential threat for the security of the region’s Arab regimes.

The controversial Iranian nuclear program also added insult to injury. A Persian Shia power, possibly equipped with nuclear bombs, would change the region’s power arrangement at the expense of the Arab-Sunni regime, Riyadh argued. Urging the White House to “cut off the head of the snake,” Riyadh welcomed tightening U.S.-led international sanctions over Iran. Nonetheless, Saudi leaders avoided direct confrontation with hard-liners in Tehran. Despite Ahmadinejad’s harsh rhetoric against Israel and the West, Saudi Arabia remained “passive,” heavily relying on U.S. policy.

The emergence of the Arab Spring set a benchmark for a final transformation in Saudi Arabia’s regional policy. The Tahrir Revolution and President Obama’s implicit support for the Egyptian revolutionaries deprived Riyadh of one of its old allies in Cairo. The destabilizing waves of the Arab Spring also reached Bahrain, urging the Shia majority there to challenge the Saudi-backed monarchy. Although the Saudi-backed military brutally crushed the peaceful movement there, the legitimacy of the authoritarian monarchy was substantially diminished. In the course of suppressing the Bahraini movement, Saudi leaders framed the revolutionaries as an Iranian fifth column to delegitimize Bahrainis’ rightful demands to stop sociopolitical and economic discrimination.

Saudi Arabia’s reaction, however, did not limit its anti-Iran campaign just to intensify its long-standing language of “Iranophobia.” In light of a hesitant Obama administration, the rise of Iran brought about the ascendency of a major shift in Saudi Arabia’s regional policy towards Iran, from containment to rollback.

The outbreak of the anti-Assad insurgency in Syria gave a unique opportunity for Riyadh and its allies to tie down Iran along the east coast of the Mediterranean. With direct support of Riyadh, as well as Doha and Ankara, Syria became engulfed in a bloody civil war. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Sunni camp, struggled to build a Sunni coalition with Egypt and Turkey to counterbalance the alleged Shia threat in Yemen. The Saudi army began conducting military operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen, using brute force to confront alleged Iranian threat. The final outcome was Riyadh painting its regional confrontation with Iran with the same brush of sectarianism.

More substantively, Riyadh took a new approach in its confrontation with Iran by making ties with militant groups in order to roll back Iran. It seems that Saudi Arabia’s aggressive new policy involves confronting regional-domestic threats by making connections with political-military groups beyond its territory. Saudi Arabia’s new policy is now based on engaging with Iran in a series of proxy wars to undermine and rollback Tehran’s regional power. Blatantly wrestling with Iran over the region, young Saudi leaders confront the alleged Iranian threat both externally and internally.

Riyadh’s external policy to roll back Iran is based on support for jihadi-Salafi groups, challenging the region’s Tehran-backed regimes. As it heavily backed Syrian rebels, ranging from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS to Jaysh al-Islam and the Free Syrian Army, Saudi Arabia considered the Damascus regime to be Iran’s strategic trump card. At the same time, Riyadh has been attempting to widen the Shia-Sunni chasm by supporting Sunni elements in Iraq. By influencing Syria and Iraq, Riyadh seeks to pressure Tehran to tread lightly in other parts of the region, such as Yemen. Upping the pressure on Iran’s sphere of influence and western border would do just that.

Internally, Saudi Arabia’s aggressive new policy attempts to pose threats to Iran by activating several opposition groups, including the MEK as well as ethnic militant groups in Iran’s Kurdistan and Baluchistan. This is the internal aspect of Saudi Arabia’s new roll-back policy.

With Prince Turki’s appearance at the July 9 conference of the exiled MEK, and his call for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, Riyadh took a major step in its new roll-back policy. Founded in 1965, the MEK was a militant opposition group during the shah’s reign, with an eclectic ideology combining Marxism and Islamism. It also carried out a number of attacks against U.S. soldiers stationed in Iran, and years later it was put on the U.S. State Department’s terrorist list. In the aftermath of the revolution, the MEK was brushed aside by the revolutionary regime, and has been listed as a terrorist organization by Tehran since the 1980s. It had fought against Iran during Saddam Hussein’s invasion, and later helped Saddam suppress an uprising by Iraqi Shia and Kurds. At the MEK meeting in Paris, Faisal lambasted the Islamic Republic, and particularly its founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, for its “exporting” of the Islamic Revolution. It is a major manifestation of Riyadh’s new roll-back policy, prompting the Saudi leaders to drop the ambiguity and pursue the policy of regime change in Iran with greater transparency.

Such a tectonic shift in Saudi policy was followed by another controversial meeting in Paris, between Maryam Rajavi, the head of the MEK, and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. The PLO-MEK connections were not a nuanced issue. Before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, MEK guerrillas trained in “Fatahland” military bases in southern Lebanon to challenge the Pahlavi regime in Tehran. Interestingly, both groups fought on the side of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. However, Abbas’s meeting was immediately seen as in line with Saudi Arabia’s offensive policies in the region. As a major funder of the Palestinian Authority, Riyadh had facilitated the meeting. It was a symbolic insult to Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has helped Palestinian resistance groups more than any other Arab country. Iranian officials harshly criticized the meeting. Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that the MEK is supported by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and called Abbas a “puppet of America.” He went further, calling Abbas a CIA agent and claiming that “Mahmoud Abbas has had secret ties with terrorist groups and Israelis, and now these relations are being disclosed.”

Saudi leaders also stepped up their campaign against Iran by supporting ethnic militant groups in Iran. In the wake of growing hostility between Tehran and Riyadh, Mustafa Hijri, the secretary-general of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, announced that his party would send its peshmerga and political cadres to Iranian Kurdistan. Tehran soon responded by claiming that regional countries, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, were behind the resurgence of Kurdish activity. Tel Aviv’s connections with the Kurds have had a long history. Israelis have been training Kurdish peshmerga since the Iraqi Kurdish insurgency, led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, in 1961. In the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, the KDPI, whose headquarters have been based in Iraqi Kurdistan, received financial backing from Tel Aviv. Hinting that the Iranian Kurds need Israeli support, Mustafa Hijri said, “We [Israel and the Kurds] have common enemies.”

Saudi Arabia siding with the KDPI was, however, a new turn. Frustrated of preventing the rise of Shia in Iraq, Riyadh officials have recently expressed their willingness to establish an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. In an unprecedented joint meeting with Israeli diplomat Dore Gold, General Anwar Majid Eshki declared this new turn. An independent Kurdish Republic adjacent to Iran would endanger Iran’s national integrity and deliver a heavy blow for its allies in Damascus and Baghdad. The spillover of the growing threat of Kurdish secessionism has also amplified, with Saudi Arabia backing Iranian Kurdish militants. Despite Saudi Arabia’s denial of any patronage, Iranian officials harshly warned Riyadh. “The Saudi consulate in Erbil has set up a training base there and established two offices near our borders,” former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai told Iranian state television in July. Indeed, a number of Saudi media outlets, like Al Arabiya, have covered KDPI terrorist activities to an unprecedented extent.

Just like leaders in Riyadh, the KDPI were among the major Iranian opponents of a nuclear settlement between Iran and the P5+1. In the wake of the nuclear talks, Hijri visited Washington, where he met with conservative congressmen and think-tank analysts to oppose a deal with Iran. In an interview with GlobalPost, Hijri argued that “If sanctions are lifted, Iran will get resources to continue support for terrorists and dictatorships that sponsor terrorists such as [Syria’s] Bashar al Assad. They will get more resources to make more turbulence in the Middle East.” These comments echoed the Saudis’ and Israelis fears’.

Urged by Riyadh, the KDPI embarked on a new campaign, calling for the overthrow of the regime of Tehran and the disintegration of the Iranian state. In June, Hijri wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post, calling on the international community to work with Iran’s ethnic minorities to achieve presumptive regional peace and stability. He also declared that the KDPI had joined with other minorities of Arab, Azeri, Balochi and Turkmen organizations to form the so-called “Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran.” Lastly, he concluded that “we believe there is a strategic convergence between the interests of nations inside Iran and the region’s main actors [i.e., Saudi Arabia and Israel] that can bring a new order to the Middle East in which we can find a basis for enduring security and lasting peace.” Claiming that Iran is “vulnerable,” Hijri declared that the KDPI had changed its goal from autonomy within a federal Iran to regime change since, according to Hijri, “the Islamic Republic should cease to exist, otherwise the middle East will never be peace [sic].” It suited Saudi Arabia’s new offensive policy and harsh language against Iran.

Tehran officials accused Riyadh of support for the KDPI. Since mid-June, more skirmishes between KDPI peshmerga and the IRGC have broken out, heralding the beginning of a new era in regional competition between Riyadh and Tehran.

Besides, Riyadh has been accused of supporting militant Baluchi groups, particularly Jundallah, in southeastern Iran. Waging violent struggles against the central regime of Iran, the Salafi-jihadi Jundallah has been financially backed by Saudis, according to Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. Along with MEK and ethnic militant groups, Riyadh has also supported several exiled Iranian figures who are working under the guise of human rights. They have advocated any steps, even all-out war with Iran, to overthrow the regime in Tehran.

Amid a bloody confrontation with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s establishment of a new front of both external and internal proxies ushers in its roll-back policy. Nevertheless, for Saudi Arabia to employ Wahhabi, Salafi proxies would be a totally strategic misstep. Despite its imitation of Iran’s foreign policy by investing in militant proxies, Saudi Arabia’s newfound aggression toward Iran may collapse and therefore not achieve its desired results. Why?

First, Iran’s policy in making connections with political, militant groups in the region is rooted in its historical insecurity. Iran’s lack of natural defensive borders, combined with the fact that it is the only country in the region that is both Shia and Persian-speaking, have cursed the country with its “strategic loneliness.” Coined first by Mohiaddin Mesbahi, director of Middle East Studies at Florida International University, the term suggests that “Iran by design and by default has been strategically ‘lonely’ and deprived of meaningful alliances.” Iran’s strategic loneliness reaffirms the country’s historical problems with defending its frontiers. The very logic of geography and history show that Iran’s final deterrence capabilities are heavily predicated on its ability to project power externally. From this perspective, building strategic connections with Shia militant groups has been a strategic tool for Iran to compensate for its historical strategic loneliness. For more than three decades, these ties have been the centerpiece of Iran’s strategy to achieve its national security aspirations and to contain foreign threats.

On the contrary way, Saudi Arabia has not suffered from long-term strategic loneliness. The country has not been the target major foreign invasions. Since the dawn of Islam, the country and its sacred cities of Mecca and Medina have been at the center of the Islamic world—a fact that has given the country a symbolic security. Indeed, history, culture and geography have protected the country from regional threats. This means building networks with militant groups beyond its borders lacks roots in Saudi Arabia history and geography.

More substantially, building and maintaining connections with militant groups is heavily predicated on a revolutionary ideology to urge external guerillas. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has been a revisionist state, challenging the dominant order of the region with its ideology. Framed around the nodal point of “independence,” Iran’s anticolonial ideology has generated a centripetal dynamic in the region, making the country a sanctuary for a host of militants that challenged conservative regional powers.

Conversely, Riyadh has been a leading conservative regime in the region. Since the late 1960s, Riyadh’s leaders, especially King Faisal, gradually shaped the country’s policy of exporting Wahhabism. Until now, the ideology of Wahhabism has captured the minds of militant rebels in the Muslim world ranging from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Heavily financed by Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars, Wahhabi mosques and imams abroad, including in western Europe, preach a radical narrative of Islam, planting the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism around the globe. Nonetheless, Wahhabi and jihadi-Salafist groups never see Riyadh as their ideological hub in the same way that Iran’s proxies see Tehran. This is mainly due to the significance given to “independence” in their discourse. While independence and liberation from Western values and presence in Islamic countries has been at the center of jihadism, its patron’s strong connections with the United States and the West have devalued Saudi Arabia’s prestige among its proxies. That is why these groups, from ISIS, Nusra and Jaysh al-Islam to MEK and KDPI, consider Saudi Arabia as merely a financial bank for waging their terrorist struggles. This means that the country lacks strong soft power in comparison to its mortal enemy, Iran.

The lack of soft power among its proxies would also pose threats to Saudi Arabia’s national security. Iran’s strategic allies, Shia proxies from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, have not endangered Iran regime. Conversely, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi, Salafi-jihadi groups, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, have competed with Riyadh’s claim of leading the Sunni world. With this historical background in mind, it would not be surprising if other Saudi proxies could target the country. In an interview with Fars News Agency on July 10, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, former deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, said that he had previously told the Saudis that “it is impossible to use terrorists as a tool to make the region insecure and at the same time expect calm within the kingdom.”

In the coming months, Saudi Arabia’s aggressive new policy towards Iran will escalate. Riyadh will keep using any possible means to put pressure on Iran. Its aggressive policy will eventually cause irreversible losses both in the region and in the kingdom itself. As history has shown, this this policy will backfire in long run—as it did for Saddam Hussein. The Baath regime of Baghdad invested heavily in Iranian opposition groups and ethnic, secessionist militant groups. The final result was the end of the Iraqi regime. Fires are raging in the Middle East, a region wherein “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

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Full Plate, Little Action Expected With Congress' Return

By James Arkin
Real Clear Politics
September 6, 2016

Lawmakers return to Washington from a seven-week recess Tuesday for a one-month sprint of legislative work before the 2016 election. They have just September – plus one week in October for the Senate – to address potential crises, fund the federal government and deal with major legislation left untouched so far this year.

That’s not to mention the myriad issues that are likely to get attention as a way to help – or hurt – legislators in tough re-election fights. Expect Democrats to try to force Republicans to deal with wedge issues, and Republicans to fight back by bringing up legislation that puts Democrats in a bind. With partisan fighting and strict deadlines, it’s unclear how much can actually be achieved in such a short time frame before lawmakers depart Washington again to spend October campaigning.

Here’s a look at what to expect from the final few weeks of pre-election Congress:


In the biggest example of failed legislating this year, Congress departed Washington stalemated over funding to combat the Zika virus crisis. Republicans scoffed at President Obama’s $1.9 billion request, but agreed to fund $1.1 billion. Democrats filibustered the final package, however, arguing that Republicans put in poison pill policy riders that prevented any funding from going to Planned Parenthood clinics, which they say is vital because the virus can be transmitted sexually. Republicans countered that there is funding in the legislation for women’s health care through community health centers and that Democrats made up an excuse for a partisan filibuster.

The Senate is likely to re-vote on the failed measure from earlier this year, which Democrats will almost certainly continue to filibuster. It’s unclear what, if any, negotiations have been ongoing to break the impasse. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control said last week that money to fight Zika is running out.

"The cupboard is bare," said Tom Frieden, who heads the CDC,according to the Washington Post. "Basically, we're out of money, and we need Congress to act to allow us to respond effectively."

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican, said last week he was confident Zika funding would pass before the end of September,according to the Houston Chronicle.

“I promise,” Cornyn said.

Funding The Government

Republicans made an attempt to work their way through individual appropriations bills this year – after Democrats filibustered right from the start in 2015 – but ultimately fell short. The House passed six of the 12 bills, and the Senate passed three. Both sides acknowledge there will need to be a stopgap measure to fund the government past September or there will be a shutdown. The main question is over exactly how long to fund the government, and whether policy riders will hurt negotiations.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made clear in a conference call with reporters Thursday that his party would not accept a continuing resolution to fund the government past 2016. That would force Congress to re-address the issue in a lame-duck session after the election, and would shield the next president from having to negotiate funding the government early in his or her administration.

“We are not doing anything into next year,” Reid said. “And Republicans should be aware of that right now.”

That’s the same strategy Congress has taken the last two years: short-term funding to finish out the year, then a major omnibus bill in December to fund the government through the following September.

But conservatives in the House, led by the Freedom Caucus, don’t approve of lame-duck sessions of Congress, and want a funding measure that lasts into March of 2017, leaving the work to the next Congress. If they push hard on that stance, it could put Speaker Paul Ryan in a difficult negotiating position.

Iran, Clinton Foundation And Email Investigations

Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed outrage at a trio of issues that are likely to receive attention this month: First, there’s the Obama administration’s $400 million cash payment to Iran that coincided with the release of four Americans imprisoned there – which Republicans have labeled a ransom, something the administration denies. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month requesting more information on the matter, and asking him to testify before lawmakers on it.

In a memo to reporters, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the lower chamber will consider “a number of measures” related to Iran, including a “legislative response” to the cash payment, though further details were not released. Sen. Mark Kirk, the chairman of a subcommittee with oversight of the Treasury Department, and locked in a competitive re-election this fall, has said he will hold a hearing to examine the administration’s payment to Iran.

Second, there’s Hillary Clinton. Republicans have held numerous hearings seeking details about her private email server, including testimony from the FBI director in early July after the bureau released a report advising no charges be filed against the former secretary of state. Republicans were unsatisfied with his responses, and two committee chairmen laid out a case last month for charging Clinton with perjury for her testimony about the emails.

Third, Chaffetz has also sent a letter to Kerry requesting information about ties between the Clinton Foundation and State Department after the Associated Press reported that Clinton met with many donors to the foundation while at Foggy Bottom. Republican investigations into these matters are likely to continue throughout September.

Gun Legislation

The House and Senate failed to come to an agreement about gun legislation in the wake of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history at an Orlando nightclub in June. Votes on four gun-control measures failed mostly along party lines in the Senate in the weeks following the massacre, and an effort to forge a bipartisan solution survived a test vote with 51 senators backing it, but remains well short of the 60 votes necessary to pass the upper chamber.

It’s unclear what action, if any, will be taken on guns in the short session. But Democrats began pushing the envelope on this issue after Orlando, with Sen. Chris Murphy staging a filibuster on the Senate floor and House Democrats disrupting their chamber with a sit-in to protest the lack of gun votes. While Democrats in past years have viewed gun control measures warily in election years, the tide has clearly shifted. They appear to view these measures as a winning campaign issue, and believe real legislative action remains possible. Particularly if there is another mass shooting or tragic event while Congress is in session, a renewed push for a bipartisan solution could be possible, though it’s still unlikely to actually pass.

Criminal Justice Reform And TPP

Justice reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were viewed as two of the biggest legislative prizes at the start of 2016, but neither has seen any significant movement so far this year. The hopes for justice reform remain, while TPP is considered mostly, if not entirely, dead for this Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said TPP will not pass this year even in a lame-duck vote after the election, and Speaker Ryan has said the votes aren’t there for it in the House. President Obama, however, is expected to continue to push for Congress to ratify the trade agreement. If the administration hopes for a lame-duck session to take it up, there will have to be some movement in that direction during the September session. But support is limited, and any action is extremely unlikely.

Justice reform hopes are slightly higher. Ryan has repeatedly spoken in favor of the effort and said in an interview with NPR in July that he expects the House to take up several bills on the issue during September. Advocates hope a large bipartisan vote in the House could spur action in the Senate, where there has been growing bipartisan support this year, but not enough to convince McConnell to bring the legislation to the floor. With so few days in session, however, it’s unlikely the chamber would be able to take up and pass a bill before the election. But a strong vote in the House could open the door for the Senate to deal with the issue during a lame-duck session in November or December.

Supreme Court Vacancy Still An Issue

It’s flown under the radar during a summer dominated by the presidential race, but the Supreme Court remains one member short, and Merrick Garland’s nomination is still in limbo. At every turn, Republicans have stood by their decision to not act on his nomination, and it’s highly unlikely they will waver on it just weeks before the election. But Democrats have sought to make this a campaign issue, and will try to put a spotlight on it as much as possible in the next few weeks.

“We’re going to focus on this,” Reid said during the conference call Thursday. “We are not walking away from one of the biggest political – what’s the word for it? – debacles in the history of our country.”

He said there are “a number of alternatives” that Democrats could take to force action, though there’s little they can do beyond a tactical move to force a procedural vote on the floor. That would create headlines and take up time on the Senate floor, but wouldn’t be likely to change any Republicans’ minds.

IRS Commissioner Impeachment

This is a top priority for House conservatives, who believe IRS Commissioner John Koskinen misled and lied to Congress during its investigation into the Tea Party targeting scandal at the agency. They successfully convinced Ryan and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to hold hearings on the matter in May, but there was no further action. Frustrated members of the Freedom Caucus then filed a privileged resolution to bring up a measure forcing the impeachment of Koskinen, and are likely to continue this push when lawmakers return in September. Impeaching the commissioner would be a difficult vote for many Republicans, torn between criticism from the right that they weren’t hard enough on Koskinen, and criticism from the left for what would be an unprecedented step to remove someone at his level from office. Taking that vote just weeks before facing voters for re-election would put moderate members in competitive races in a bind.

These are just a few of the issues awaiting lawmakers when they return from their long recess on Tuesday. But with the House scheduled for just 17 legislative days, and the Senate for just 23, many of them will be left unresolved before the election. That could lead to a hefty lame-duck agenda at the end of the year, but it will also fuel a number of campaign attacks heading into Nov. 8.

Article Link To Real Clear Politics:

Viktor Orbán’s Vision Of A Bigger, Looser Europe

One of the EU’s loudest critics advocates expansion — because the bigger it gets, the less integrated it becomes.

Politico EU
September 6, 2016

In the two years since the speaker of the Hungarian national assembly ordered the EU flag removed from the parliament building on the banks of the Danube, diplomatic affairs between Budapest and Brussels have hardly improved.

Hungary has clashed with the rest of the bloc over asylum seekers. The EU has withheld funding over concerns about corruption and waged a battle in the courts against Budapest over taxes on media companies, seen by the union as politically motivated. Lest anyone miss how Brussels perceives Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed him to a summit in Riga last year with the greeting “hello, dictator” and a playful slap on the cheek.

And yet, as relations between Budapest and Brussels have deteriorated, Orbán has continued to push for greater European integration and for expansion of the bloc.

Hungary may be building a second fence on its southern border with Serbia to prevent refugees from crossing into the country. But the country still supports Serbia’s EU accession “within the shortest possible time,” as Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has put it. And Hungary recently reiterated its support for European integration of Ukraine, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“The essence of Hungarian thinking is simple: the European Union is rich, but weak. This is the worst possible combination of qualities” — Viktor Orbán

While Brexit, the refugee crisis and the union’s ongoing economic woes have pushed expansion way down the list of EU priorities, the Hungarians are still gung-ho about further integration — a puzzling stance for a country nicknamed “fortress Hungary” for its predilection for building fences rather than tearing them down.

However, this is key to Orbán’s vision for Europe. The Hungarian prime minister wants to expand Europe but fortify its external borders. In a meeting with his Slovak, Czech, and Polish counterparts on August 26, he proposed the creation of a joint European military.

He also wants cooperation on some trade and technical issues. But, ultimately, he wants national politicians to decide their own countries’ fates.

In other words, Orbán is a populist and a EU skeptic but not in the mold of Nigel Farage, formerly of the U.K. Independence Party, who wanted to undo the union — or at least the U.K.’s part in it. Orbán has no desire to pull out of the EU — and doing so would be hugely unpopular. But he has some thoughts on how things could be improved.

Rich, But Weak

For the Hungarian leader, an expanded EU translates into a more loosely conceived alliance where members cooperate but national-level governments regain full sovereignty.

“Orbán is not interested in a very well-integrated, centralized European Union,” said Bulcsú Hunyadi, a senior analyst at the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute. And so, paradoxically, EU expansion furthers Orbán’s aims because “the bigger the EU gets,” said Hunyadi, “the less integrated the union becomes.”

In an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung after the Brexit vote, Orbán outlined his vision for this “community with a population of 444 million” after first waxing poetic about the light on the Rhine and hanging out with one of the architects of the Maastricht Treaty, retired German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Orbán is clearly aware of his own reputation as a provocateur. He just sees himself as a much-needed truth-teller.

"When the constitutional court got in Orbán’s way, he simply bypassed its authority and wrote the laws directly into the constitution."

“In the former German Democratic Republic — in East Germany – if someone even discreetly tried to talk about obvious problems, the doubter was confronted with a single stupid — but apparently conclusive – argument: ‘Comrade, are you opposed to Peace?’” Orbán wrote. “A crisis-prone EU cannot shut down debate on some fundamental issues by saying that people who doubt the great project should visit Europe’s military cemeteries. The recognition of historical truths will not be enough to ensure the survival of the EU.”

Orbán himself has arguably changed the tenor of the immigration debate in Europe while also becoming the subject of heated debate himself in both Brussels and Washington over illiberal initiatives such as curbing press freedom, rewriting electoral laws and appointing loyalists to key institutions including the central bank and the chief prosecutor’s office. When the constitutional court got in his way, he simply bypassed its authority and wrote the laws directly into the constitution.

When it comes to the EU, Orbán is also clearly impatient with obstacles to his own exercise of power.

“The essence of Hungarian thinking is simple: the European Union is rich, but weak. This is the worst possible combination of qualities,” Orbán wrote. “At the same time, we must avoid unproductive ideological debates on whether we need “more Europe” or “less Europe:” where we need more, there should be more; where we need less, there should be less.”

Orbán’s aim “is to become a leader of the Euroskeptic, populist European forces,” said Hunyadi, who is complimentary of the prime minister’s political skill. “He started as a liberal politician and in the middle of the 1990s, he turned his party into a conservative party because at that time there was a vacuum on the conservative side in Hungary.” Now he is doing a “very similar maneuver” by “turning his party from a conservative party into a Euroskeptic, populist, almost far-right party because he thinks this will be the determining force in the near future in Europe.”

‘Poisonous’ Migrants

To characterize Orbán as anti-Europe would be misleading. While he’s a populist and a skeptic, the prime minister has never called for a referendum on the country’s membership —and is unlikely to do so since the EU remains quite popular within Hungary.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted earlier this year, 61 percent of Hungarians have a favorable view of the union, making it more popular in Hungary than in Germany or France, where only 50 percent and 38 percent hold similar views. Hungarians — and their leaders — recognize that membership has brought Hungary significant investment, economic opportunity and mobility.

Still, one particularly sore point between Budapest and Brussels remains the issue of refugees and when voters go to the polls next month for a referendum on migration, they will essentially be asked to cast a vote on the EU. The question on the ballot? Whether Brussels should be allowed to force Budapest to resettle immigrants “without the consent of parliament.” At issue is an EU agreement that requires member states to relocate asylum seekers in an equitable fashion among member countries.

"The Hungarian government has been stoking anti-refugee sentiments, in part through a nationwide billboard campaign."

“Hungary’s relationship with the EU is difficult enough but the referendum makes it even more so,” said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, vice-president of the European Parliament and a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ahead of the vote, the Hungarian government has been stoking anti-refugee sentiments, in part through a nationwide billboard campaign. One government-sponsored poster reads, “Did you know that since the beginning of the migrant crisis, harassment towards women has steeply risen in Europe?” Orbán last month referred to migrants as “poison.”

A Calvinist by upbringing, the prime minister often talks about his country’s Christian heritage, and for the Hungarian leadership, a core principle is an EU built on “common Christian values” as Zoltán Kovács, spokesman for the Hungarian government, put it. “Most certainly, when we talk about the future of Europe, you cannot disregard it.”

And ultimately it is that — Christianity and history — that seems to inform Orbán’s European dreams.

Orbán used to drive a car with a bumper sticker showing Hungary’s boundaries before World War I when his country was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his view of the past, of course, informs the future. He is highly aware that references to history resonate with many voters, who still see the loss of territory following World War I as a national tragedy.

“Together we Hungarians and Germans can do a great deal for the success of the European project,” he wrote in his Frankfurter Allgemeine piece. “In the tradition of Bismarck, together with our partners we can leap up and grasp the hem of God’s garment as he marches past.”

The images of millions on the march, fleeing war and making their way across Europe in search of a better life, resemble archival footage. And, certainly, this is the gravest refugee crisis since World War II. Along Hungary’s southern border, children of war (and their parents) are stranded in transit zones, barred from entering Hungary.

So it was surprising to read the news this summer that the Hungarian government was hosting summer camps for hundreds of children impacted by war. On closer inspection, though, it became clear: The children weren’t Muslim. They hadn’t fled from the carnage in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. Rather, these were Christian kids from Ukraine, welcomed under a government-sponsored program that would introduce the children to “European values.”

Article Link To Politico EU:

Nicaragua Is Turning Into A Real-Life ‘House of Cards’

Strongman Daniel Ortega is running for a third term (with his wife as VP) and cravenly removing all checks on his power. Sound familiar?

Foreign Policy
September 6, 2016

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s quest for absolute political control has become more naked and visible than ever. His recent decision to remove the remaining checks on his power provoked a spate of critical commentaries in the international press. Thanks to skillful maneuvering by the Nicaraguan strongman, however, it is unlikely that his increasingly authoritarian rule will generate sustained domestic or international backlash.

The ever wily Ortega, now 70, has been busy accumulating power and influence over all of his nation’s institutions since he returned to the presidency. Elected in 2006, and again in 2011, he is seeking his third consecutive term on Nov. 6 — this time, with his wife, Rosario Murillo, 65, as his running mate. Over the past decade, Murillo has acquired unprecedented powers — including over the government’s social programs — and has become a de facto co-ruler with her husband.

In some respects, Murillo’s imminent rise to the vice presidency is only the most recent step in Ortega’s plan to concentrate power. Not satisfied with carrying out elections that were widely deemed fraudulent, controlling the courts,establishing indefinite re-election, disqualifying leading opposition figures from running for office, and banning independent election observers, Ortega — through his supporters on the Supreme Court — ordered the removal of 28 opposition lawmakers (16 members and 12 alternates) on July 29.

But are the latest moves in a series of anti-democratic actions an overreach — a miscalculation that could risk complicating Nicaragua’s relatively unperturbed governance? It doesn’t look likely. Ortega has been effective in eroding all potential challenges to his rule: He’s coasting toward re-election, currently polling at 67 percent, according to M&R Consultores. Recognized for his political shrewdness if not his democratic bent, Ortega seems to be trying to preempt potential problems that could conceivably undermine his or, eventually, Murillo’s rule.

It is a goal that has been in the works for decades. During the 1980s, Ortega ran the country as leader of the Sandinista movement that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. The Somoza family had ruled Nicaragua for 44 years, a despotic and corrupt dynastic regime whose style of governance came to be known as Somocismo. Ortega’s first decade in power was marked by an intense confrontation with Washington — which unsuccessfully financed the Contra rebel army to overthrow him — and an offensive against the country’s business interests, which led to economic collapse. Facing the end of the Soviet Union — his chief international backer — and a crumbling economy, Ortega agreed to call for elections in 1990, when he was defeated by Violeta Chamorro.

For a decade and a half after suffering this setback, Ortega methodically planned his return to power. He built an alliance with the traditional conservative parties he once fought as a revolutionary, which enabled him to win the 2006 elections with just 38 percent of the vote. Once back in the presidency, Ortega employed a variety of strategies to accumulate and perpetuate his power.

First, he used devious legal measures to harass those who refused to align with him, including former members of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN. Today, the opposition is weak and fractured, struggling to get some traction in a country where the cards are overwhelmingly stacked against it. In 2011, Ortega was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote, and the election this November will be virtually uncontested.

Although Nicaragua is Latin America’s second poorest country after Haiti, Ortega has presided over sustained growth — GDP has doubled since 2006 — and has received praise (including from the International Monetary Fund) for his prudent economic management. Murillo and other senior government officials have touted the pockets of progress and social development programs that give the very poor some hope for economic mobility.

Most notably, even more important than economic growth, since 2007 Ortega has forged a kind of nonaggression pact with the country’s business community, thus quieting a potentially vigorous sector of the opposition. Through regular consultations, the Nicaraguan confederation of business associations, known as Cosep, has built a cozy relationship with the government — though with the understanding that it will not meddle in politics and, in turn, Ortega will allow it to do its business with little interference and minimum taxes.

This “corporatist” model sets Nicaragua apart from some of its Central American neighbors, where the relationship between the governments and private sectors is often less structured and harmonious. Although Ortega’s latest, and most blatant, power grab prompted Cosep to express some concern, the country’s major business leaders have remained silent; after a few weeks, they seem reluctant to upset the accord they have with the government. Still, they are quietly nervous that Ortega’s closing of political space could discourage foreign investment, which adds to existing worries about less favorable export prices in recent years.

Likewise, on the international front, Ortega is unlikely to get much pushback. Unlike in the 1980s, when Nicaragua was a flash point in the Cold War, today the Central American nation of 6 million hardly figures on Washington’s policy agenda. The focus in Latin American policy is on the unrelenting crisis in Venezuela and the severe security and governance problems besetting Nicaragua’s northern neighbors — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Statements of concern from the U.S. State Department and governments of Costa Rica and Mexico regarding Ortega’s expulsion of the opposition from the National Assembly are unlikely to have much effect, nor will a slap-on-the-wrist document that is reportedly being prepared by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

The functional arrangement Ortega fashioned with the private sector, together with the country’s respectable economic performance and social development efforts, has led observers to cut the Nicaraguan caudillo, or strongman, considerable slack when it comes to democracy. The government’s authoritarian character has long been hard to deny, but it has been “soft” in contrast to, say, Hugo Chávez’s iron-fisted rule in Venezuela or the widespread repression of previous eras. And, after all, say some cynical observers within and outside Nicaragua, why apply the standard of representative, liberal democracy to a nation that, given its history, seems condemned to some kind of authoritarian rule?

What’s more, Nicaragua’s levels of violence — at least measured in homicide rates — are substantially lower than those of its northern neighbors, where drug-related gang and organized crime is rampant. The difference is striking and can be attributed in part to Nicaragua’s more professional police force. In addition, Ortega has been a willing partner with the United States in fighting drug trafficking, which has helped him win some favor in Washington.

One of the few voices who has consistently refused to accept Ortega’s authoritarianism as the price to pay for growth and safety is Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the son of the former president and now editor of the newspaper Confidencial. Chamorro, who was once a Sandinista himself until he became disillusioned with Ortega in the 1990s, has sounded the alarm about the systematic dismantling of democracy in Nicaragua over the past decade: “We are witnessing an authoritarian regime that does not tolerate any kind of competition in institutional spaces or autonomy from state powers,” he wrote in a July op-ed.

Chamorro also believes that Ortega’s recent actions may be anticipating some problems with his political project down the road. To begin, Ortega can no longer rely on Caracas for economic support. From the outset of Ortega’s government, oil-rich Venezuela, first under Chávez and now President Nicolás Maduro, has provided an annual subsidy of an estimated $500 million, which can no longer be sustained by that country’s collapsing economy. Through its investigative work, Confidencial has revealed that the Venezuela subsidy was largely used as Ortega’s personal fund and has been a source of considerable corruption — part and parcel of the opacity and absence of accountability that have characterized the regime.

It is also quite likely that as Ortega makes his moves on the political chessboard, he has in mind the fate of the grandiose construction of a canal underwritten by Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing for some $50 billion. Understandably, there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether the gargantuan project, which promises to compete with the Panama Canal, will actually materialize. To date, there have been few signs of progress, and there is considerable resistance from environmental and other community groups in Nicaragua. Ortega may well have foreseen social unrest associated with the canal project, which could require him to have absolute power in order to clear a path forward. Alternatively, he may have concluded what other observers have — that the canal project is not going to happen — which would be an economic and political blow that would also mean tough times ahead. Either way, Ortega needs to get ready.

It is hard to know what will happen in Nicaragua after the presidential elections on Nov. 6, in which the Ortega-Murillo ticket will face almost no opposition. Thanks to Ortega’s latest, most egregious power moves — the culmination of the gradual erosion of democratic safeguards — the couple will exercise total control. Paradoxically, Ortega seems to have perfected the dynastic rule of the Somocismo he once brought down.

Ortega is probably wise to brace for a turbulent period. Though the economy is stable, there are clouds on the horizon, and such notably personalistic rule has inherent and significant vulnerabilities. Still, Nicaragua’s strongman has proved to be resilient, learning from his time in the political wilderness. It would be a mistake to underestimate him.

Article Link To Foreign Policy:

The Folly Of Fighting Terrorism By Lawsuit

The House should kill a dangerous bill that would lift sovereign immunity in some terror cases.

By John R. Bolton and Michael B. Mukasey
The Wall Street Journal
September 6, 2016

When Congress returns from summer break this week, it will face enormous pressure to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Although enticingly named, Jasta is far more likely to harm the United States than bring justice against any sponsor of terrorism. Counterterrorism policy in the past eight years has been a failure, but this bill won’t fix it.

Jasta would create an exception to sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine protecting foreign countries and their diplomatic personnel from suit in U.S. courts, if a plaintiff claims to have suffered injury in the United States from state-sponsored terrorism.

The bill’s impetus arose from a belief that Saudi Arabia was deeply implicated in the September 11 attacks, a view fueled by the withholding of 28 pages from a congressional report (to avoid compromising intelligence sources and methods) containing purported evidence on Saudi involvement. The pages have now been released with minimal intelligence-related redactions. CIA director John Brennan characterized the 28 pages as “a very preliminary review.” The 9/11 Commission’s assessment after a full review was, in Mr. Brennan’s words, “that there was no evidence to indicate that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually had supported the 9/11 attacks.”

President George W. Bush, who responded to 9/11 by driving the al Qaeda/Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, also saw no official Saudi involvement. It is jaw-dropping that many who describe Mr. Bush as a warmonger believe simultaneously that he is covering for the Saudis. If the Saudis were involved in 9/11, it would be as much an act of war as the attack was. Only in America would someone argue that a lawsuit is an appropriate response to an unprovoked attack. Fortunately, these creative minds were not around in December 1941.

Nonetheless, as Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) has said, if complicit the Saudis “should pay the price to the families [of the 9/11 victims] that deserve justice.” There is already a law that permits U.S. citizens to sue any country our government has designated a state sponsor of terrorism, such as Iran. Jasta, however, does not require a prior U.S. government designation, bypassing a critical safeguard to allow plaintiffs to get at the Saudis—and also setting a precedent for suits against other countries.

Most significant, Jasta shifts authority for a huge component of national security from the politically accountable branches—the president and Congress—to the judiciary, the branch least competent to deal with international matters of life and death and least politically accountable. If citizens believe that presidents are covering up, Congress can act. But to invite unelected, life-tenured judges to interfere in areas constitutionally assigned to the branches charged with making and declaring war is folly in an age of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The mere initiation of a lawsuit permits a party to conduct what lawyers call “discovery,” which includes rummaging through the opposing party’s files and questioning its representatives in search of evidence. Discovery would include highly sensitive diplomatic communications and questioning high public officials. The harm to Saudi Arabia is something no sovereign nation would willingly suffer: the exposure of diplomatic and state secrets in a public proceeding in a foreign country.

The same is true for the United States. America has diplomats, military personnel and intelligence operatives serving in greater numbers in more places than any other country. They—and we—are sheltered in that good work by sovereign immunity, which protects them against being hauled into court by those who oppose U.S. policy and would use judicial proceedings to frustrate it, especially in countries where courts are puppets of the regimes.

We have far more to lose than other nations from creating exceptions to sovereign immunity that others could use against us. There is no shortage of people hostile to America, even in nominally friendly countries, who would welcome Jasta’s passage. Current and former U.S. officials have already been threatened with suits in Belgium, Italy and Spain for actions in Iraq and elsewhere. An errant drone strike that kills noncombatants in Afghanistan could easily trigger lawsuits demanding that U.S. military or intelligence personnel be hauled into foreign courts.

U.S. allies—principally although not exclusively Israel—also would be at risk. Jasta would provide potential plaintiffs a useful argument to justify suing Israeli government personnel in a foreign court. Such potential plaintiffs are numerous.

While the statute permitting suit against a sovereign country if our government designates that country a state sponsor of terrorism has resulted in many judgments against Iran, virtually no money has been collected on those judgments. Iran has removed its sovereign assets from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, as Saudi Arabia and others might do if Jasta is passed.

Although Jasta has great potential for mischief and little for good, it shot through the Senate unanimously without even a hearing. The House should bring to this statute the sober deliberation the Senate failed to provide and make certain Jasta does not reach the president’s desk.

Article Link To The Wall Street Journal:

Trump’s ‘Get Even’ Program

By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post
September 6, 2016

Some time ago, the public intellectual Milton Himmelfarb put his finger on what the current presidential campaign is all about. Referring to his fellow Jews, he said that they “earn like Episcopalians, and vote like Puerto Ricans.” Never mind the rearview mirror of PC tut-tutness, what Himmelfarb had observed was that not all the people all the time vote their pocketbooks. It’s not always the economy, stupid.

Himmelfarb, who died in 2006, lived long enough to see his quip extended to other social, ethnic and cultural groups. In 2004, Thomas Frank did just that with his book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” It wasn’t just that the state had gone deeply conservative, it was that its voters were doing away with programs that benefited them. Ideology was overshadowing economics.

Now Donald Trump proves the same point. We have oodles of polling data to show that Trump’s supporters are typically white males who topped out in high school. They are supposedly forlorn, adrift, not living better than their fathers and seeing their sons about to live even worse than they do. Trump, with his anti-immigrant, anti-trade and anti-China policy promises to change all that. This check will forever be in the mail.

There is, however, some contrary evidence that money alone is not at the root of the Trump evil. More recent studies suggest that racial and cultural isolation also play a role — maybe a dominant one. For instance, anti-immigrant feeling intensifies the farther one gets from the Rio Grande.

In other words, to know Mexicans is to know that they are hard-working and law-abiding, hardly the rapists and criminals of Trump’s description. Trump’s appeal may not, at bottom, be economic. It might be just plain emotional.

Liberals have a hard time with noneconomic explanations of political behavior. They subscribe to the Officer Krupke Rule of Life, propounded by me and named after the character in “West Side Story” who is mocked by gang members who spout liberal platitudes relieving them of all responsibly for being bad. It’s all society’s fault. This explains why it surprised liberals that the crime rate did not zoom during the recent deep recession. Most crimes are committed by criminals, not people who have been laid off.

Trump has an economic message, of course, but it’s beside the point. He doesn’t really have a jobs program, he has a get-even program. His appeal is visceral, emotional, nationalistic. He instinctively knows something about resentment and pride and the place they play when someone enters the voting booth. I don’t think he’s given these matters a moment’s thought. On the contrary, they come naturally to him. He makes his people feel good. He makes them feel proud. He makes them feel as Americans should. It’s a feeling I yearn for myself, although not at the cost of voting for Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s response to all this is quintessentially Hillary Clinton. Her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was — in the harshest put-down of all — one of her best efforts, but it was bloodless, an endless train of programs and ideas, all of them good, but none of them producing a snappy salute. Her message was economic, almost exclusively so: “My primary mission as president will be to create more opportunity and more good jobs with rising wages right here in the United States,” she said. Yes, yes, of course. All words. No music. She is the school’s principal. Trump is the football coach.

Trump’s advantage is that he has enemies — Mexicans, Muslims, the Chinese, criminals, idiotic government regulations, the media and, by inference, a smothering political correctness that inhibits speech, seasoning hate with frustration. Never mind that his enemies are really scapegoats; he enables the angry and frustrated to vent. Their America has changed. It is less white and less Christian and more sexually permissive. It permits same-sex marriage and unisex bathrooms and has taken a blender to all sorts of sexual categories and made them all one. Trump’s supporters are bewildered. Uncle Sam does not know which bathroom stall to use.

Clinton represents that changed America. Her enemies are hers alone — the vast right-wing conspiracy, for instance — but not those of wretched white males. She promises them a job, but they have heard that before. What they want is pride, status, a return to when white males owned the culture, understood the culture, were the culture. Trump offers them the past. For that, they’ll sacrifice the future anytime.

Article Link To The Washington Post:

Even Worse Than Clinton’s Emails

The civil service was missing in action. We learned about the emails from a hacker.

By William McGurn
The Wall Street Journal
September 6, 2016

Forget the new dump of Hillary Clinton emails. Forget the phony claims that the missing communications were all about wedding plans and yoga routines. Forget, too, the many requests from Doug Band in which the Clinton Foundation honcho hoped his quos (hefty donations to the Clinton Foundation) would translate into quids (e.g., special access to the secretary).

Forget them all. The most disturbing aspect about the FBI dump may not be fresh evidence of another Clinton lie. The most disturbing thing about Mrs. Clinton’s continuing email drama may be where she’s telling the truth.

Or at least a half-truth. Mrs. Clinton told the FBI it was “common knowledge” at State that she used private email. Agents further quote her as saying she “could not recall anyone raising concerns with her regarding the sensitivity of the information she received at her email address.”

However unseemly the cashing in of the Clinton family, whatever the trampling of the ethics accord the Clinton Foundation had signed with the White House, even apart from the walking conflicts-of-interests that were Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, the much larger stink here is this: Mrs. Clinton was allowed to spend her four years as secretary of state off the grid.

It isn’t so much that Mrs. Clinton set up a personal server so she would not be accountable the way normal political appointees are held accountable. It’s that no one in government stopped her. The inspector general’s report notes that when two IT officers expressed their concern in 2010 that her private email system meant federal records were not being preserved, they were told “never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.”

As a result, when the American people finally learned about Mrs. Clinton’s use of private email for public business, it wasn’t because of a functioning civil service. It was because of a hacker.

Mrs. Clinton says officials at State never told her what she was doing wasn’t allowed. That isn’t quite true. It’s more accurate to say she never asked the people who would have the answers to these questions. The IG report confirms it was made clear to State staffers that she did not want the questions asked.

It gets worse. Even today her former department is still resisting efforts to make public the emails she tried to hide. Groups such as Judicial Watch have done yeoman’s work in forcing the emails into the sunlight—but they have also had to get court orders to pry them out of an obstructionist State Department.

It’s a disturbing pattern, and unfortunately it’s not limited to State. There have been similar questions about the integrity and professionalism of the IRS ever since the American people learned in 2013 that it was unfairly targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Three years, many congressional hearings and disappearing hard drives later, there is still no evidence the IRS has ended the practice. Just last month, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals described the IRS approach to its targets this way: “You’re alright for now, but there may be another shoe falling.” This follows on a March ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which blasted the IRS for refusing to produce a list of those it had targeted—as well as for its bad faith in defending itself by invoking a rule meant to “protect taxpayers from the IRS, not the IRS from taxpayers.”

Originally the speculation was that the IRS effort had been orchestrated by the Obama administration. As the Journal’s James Taranto noted at the time, the IRS scandal is worse if it was not directed by the White House. “If it ‘went rogue’ against the Constitution and in support of the party in power,” he wrote, “then we are dealing with a cancer on the federal government.”

Now consider the FBI. Its director is appointed to a 10-year term precisely to remove him from political pressures.

In our criminal-justice system, the bureau’s job is to investigate, while the decision to indict belongs to the Justice Department. In other words, whether to indict Mrs. Clinton was Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s responsibility, and she would have to take the heat whichever way she decided.

Until FBI director Jim Comey intervened with a press conference in which he announced he was recommending against indictment. By going public in a way even he admitted was “unusual,” Mr. Comey effectively pre-empted the Justice Department and any hope for accountability. That Mr. Comey’s decision let Ms. Lynch off the hook after her private meeting with Bill Clinton only makes it more disgraceful.

Welcome to modern Washington, just two months away from a presidential election. It’s possible, of course, that the people who believe the system is rigged and that their government has taken sides against them are wrong.

But the most disquieting possibility is that it isn’t crazy to think they might be right.

Article Link To The Wall Street Journal:

Eugene Robinson: The Ugliest, Most Appalling Spectacle In American Politics

By Eugene Robinson 
The Washington Post
September 6, 2016

Every once in a while, the curtains part and we get a glimpse of the ugliest, most shameful spectacle in American politics: the Republican Party’s systematic attempt to disenfranchise African Americans and other minorities with voter-ID laws and other restrictions at the polls.

If you thought this kind of discrimination died with Jim Crow, think again. Fortunately, federal courts have blocked implementation of some of the worst new laws, at least for now. But the most effective response would be for black and brown voters to send the GOP a message by turning out in record numbers, no matter what barriers Republicans try to put in our way.

The ostensible reason for these laws is to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: voter fraud by impersonation. Four years ago, you may recall, a Republican Pennsylvania legislator let slip the real reason for his state’s new voter-ID law: to “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state. In the end, Romney didn’t. But Republicans tried mightily to discourage minorities, most of whom vote Democratic, from going to the polls.

Now, thanks to documents that surfaced in a lawsuit, we have an even clearer and more egregious example of attempted disenfranchisement, this time in North Carolina. As The Post reported, the documents show “that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.”

The article continued, “The law, created and passed entirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly history of blocking African Americans from voting — practices that had taken a civil rights movement and extensive federal intervention to stop.”

Post reporter William Wan backed up that tough assertion by quoting from the documents.

In one email, written while the GOP-controlled legislature was crafting what has been called the most onerous voter-ID law in the nation, a staffer asked for a breakdown of the 2008 voter turnout showing whether blacks and whites differed in their preference for early voting. In another email, a Republican lawmaker wanted to know if Hispanic voters tend to vote outside their home precincts. In another, an aide to the House speaker asked for “a breakdown, by race, of those registered voters in your database that do not have a driver’s license number.”

Wan wrote that “months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.”

Thankfully, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the 4th Circuit recognized the legislature’s discriminatory intent and struck down the law. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory tried to appeal, but the Supreme Court refused to stay the lower court’s order — which means the law will not be in effect for this year’s election.

Federal courts have also struck down new voting restrictions in Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Dakota. In all cases, the laws were enacted by Republican legislatures and governors. And in all cases, discriminatory impact on minority voters is at issue.

GOP officials defend these laws as necessary to protect the sanctity of the voting process. The judge in the Wisconsin case, however, found that “a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement.”

Some might argue that these laws are a matter of politics, not racism — that Republicans may be trying to discourage Democrats from the polls but are not targeting minorities as such. That’s a distinction without a difference, however, given the GOP’s estrangement from minority voters.

And the North Carolina example clearly puts to rest any notion that these restrictions are colorblind. The law began as a simple 16-page bill mandating voter IDs. But in June 2013, while the legislation was still being worked on, the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which compelled Southern states with a history of voter discrimination to obtain Justice Department approval before making changes in election laws.

“Now we can go with the full bill,” the Republican chairman of the state Senate’s rules committee told reporters. The legislation grew to 57 pages, with new provisions that shortened early voting, eliminated same-day registration and took away counties’ ability to extend poll hours to accommodate long lines, among other curbs.

Republicans claim they want support from African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. They don’t deserve the time of day until they stop this appalling effort to keep us from voting at all.

Article Link To The Washington Post:

It’s Time To Kill The ObamaCare Penalty

By Betsy McCaughey
The New York Post
September 6, 2016

On Inauguration Day, the next president of the United States should suspend the penalty for being uninsured under ObamaCare.

President Obama promised his law would provide an array of affordable health plans. In 2017, consumers will get neither choice nor affordability. In nearly a third of the nation, only one insurer will offer coverage — that’s no choice at all. And insurance premiums are skyrocketing across the country.

ObamaCare is broken. Slapping ObamaCare refuseniks with hefty penalties (averaging almost $1,000) for not signing up would be unfair, like enforcing a parking ticket when the meter’s broken.

Consumers will be clobbered starting Nov. 1, the beginning of the open-enrollment period. They’ll want to know what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton intend to do about it. In swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, premiums are rising 30 percent and even as high as 40 percent.

In many parts of Florida, another must-win state, consumers will be forced to sign up for the only insurer in town or get hit with the penalty.

Giant insurers Aetna, UnitedHealth and Humana are quitting most ObamaCare exchanges after losing billions trying to sell the unpopular plans. Wherever only one insurer remains, all patients on ObamaCare will be funneled into that single remaining insurer’s network of doctors, making it nearly impossible to get a doctor’s appointment.

Worse, many of these remaining insurers are primarily in the Medicaid business. ObamaCare will mean paying soaring premiums for Medicaid-level access to care. What a deal.

In Illinois, most ObamaCare premiums are going up more than 50 percent before subsidies. In Tennessee, it’s 62 percent. Individuals earning more than $48,000 or couples earning more than $64,000 have to pay full freight.

It’s highway robbery.

From the start, ObamaCare has made financial sense only for two groups: the very sick or those eligible for a free ride. That’s why more than 11 million people a year are opting to pay penalties instead of buying insurance, as ObamaCare requires.

That is: More people are paying NOT to have it than are signing up for it.

Now, with premiums soaring and choices disappearing, even more people will say “no” to ObamaCare, predicts industry expert Robert Laszewski.

These people shouldn’t get penalized. The same law that imposes the penalty promised them choice and affordability — and is reneging on both.

Does a president have the power to suspend the penalty? Yes. Only Congress can make or change law. I am not suggesting the next president go rogue, like Obama himself did, changing the law 43 times without asking Congress. But the law’s hardship exemptions give the next president a legal opening. Stratospheric premiums and deductibles and no choice are hardships for sure.

Laszewski warns that dropping the penalty “would only make the system implode faster.” True, because the young and healthy will be under no pressure to pay for a raw deal. But why should these individuals be sacrificed to prop up “the system”?

To the collapse of the ObamaCare plans, we should say: good riddance. Twenty million people have gained coverage under the ACA, but the lion’s share are enrolled in

Medicaid, not in these private plans.

They cover at most about 8 million people who were previously uninsured — a small gain compared with hardship on the 11 million who pay the penalty and 5 million or so who had insurance they liked and were forced to give it up to enroll in ObamaCare instead.

ObamaCare architect Ezekiel Emanuel calls for stiffer penalties on the uninsured. Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt recommends the United States copy how European countries crack down on the uninsured, including garnishing wages.

Yikes. Sounds like the harsh approach Hillary Clinton took in 1993, when she proposed her failed health-care plan. (And no doubt what she’d try again — compulsion.)

But Americans don’t want to be Europeanized, and they won’t march in lockstep into an insurance scheme that takes away their choices. Let’s hope the next president is listening.

Article Link To The New York Post: