Hell’s Trapdoor (Open Thread)

In this video, right after Carly Fiorina says, “Your next President of the United States, Ted Cruz,” she disappears:

It is reported that she fell off the stage and was uninjured. Maybe. But who’s to say the devil himself didn’t just open a trapdoor to hell after she told that big fat lie?

Satan is allegedly the “Father of Lies,” so why would a standard bit of campaign mendacity provoke his wrath? Maybe the devil hates that miserable son of a bitch Cruz as much as everyone else does.

Open thread!

Iraqi State of Emergency: The Parliamentary Occupation

Yesterday a large number of Iraqi Shi’a stormed into the Green Zone in protest and occupied the Iraqi Parliament. The immediate driver of this activity was a call by Muqtada al Sadr for the Iraqi Parliament to actually convene and take a vote on pending legislation to force Iraqi Prime Minister al Abadi to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats. The real cause of the unrest is with the way power is currently portioned out within the Iraqi government, which is partially done by sectarian allotment among Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, and Kurds. When the current Iraqi government’s institutions and structures were being rebuilt one of the reforms was a very, very soft form of consociational (confessional) representation. Perhaps the best known example of this type of system is in Lebanon where certain numbers of seats in the Lebanese Parliament and certain ministerial and military positions are reserved for members of specific Lebanese sects in order to force power sharing, compromise, and the creation of a functional civil space among the often hostile and antagonistic Lebanese sects.

Iraq’s system isn’t a full consociational system as the elections to Parliament are based on party lists, not sectarian quotas regarding seats. Though in practice the party lists have produced a Shi’a majority bloc, with both Kurdish, Sunni, and mixed sectarian minority blocs within the Iraqi Parliament. Iraq’s consociational system instead focuses on having some ministerial positions allotted in a consociational manner to force power sharing and compromise. It has, unfortunately, not always worked effectively, and has been a source of serious contention, and a conduit for corruption. One of Prime Minister al Abadi’s goals has been the reform of this system by transitioning it away from consociationalism based on sectarian confession (Shi’a and Sunni) and ethnicity (Kurd) and towards a technocratic form of government. Unfortunately this has been stalled out; largely because those currently benefiting from the consociational system don’t want to give up those benefits so the legislation is stalled and a quorum cannot be produced in Parliament. The longer it drags on, the more the frustration grows. And today a lot of that boiled over. The good news is that the Iraqi Security Forces are not treating this as a type of activity that requires a counterterrorism response. This is a very good sign and watching the response of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Interior Ministry will provide us with important information going forward.

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Threading the Needle (Updated)

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It’s instructive in a “compare and contrast” sense to read today’s NYT columns from David Brooks and Paul Krugman. Brooks is contemplating the Trumpocalypse and what it all means for professional plutocracy apologists like himself. He warns us to gird ourselves for more Applebees salad bar stories, as Doug points out downstairs, dog help us.

Brooks attributes Trump’s rise — and Sanders’ too — to a broad sense of American decline:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

In the morning thread, sharp-eyed commenter Jeffro noticed Brooks’ rhetorical switcheroo there, speaking of Sanders and Trump voters and then citing a poll result exclusive to the Trumpenproletariat, as if Sanders voters share the exact same concerns. And it is a sly form of both-sides-do-it-ism.

Krugman has a different take on why the Trumpites are angry as well as an explanation for why the GOP establishment candidates went down to humiliating defeat while Clinton is prevailing on the Dem side:

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-­and-­switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

Krugman is right. But Brooks isn’t 100% wrong when he says there is pain on both sides of the political divide, even if he is dishonest in how he frames it. There is real pain out there, and it’s not all attributable to aggrieved white men who are finally getting a taste of the economic insecurity the rest of the world has been swallowing for decades.

Ostensibly middle-class families are one outpatient surgery deductible away from financial catastrophe. Students are graduating with crushing debt. Parents have no idea how they’ll ever retire. The unemployment rate is at a 40-year low, but try finding a decent job if you’re a 50-something woman or a 17-year-old black kid.

These things are real. And what Hillary Clinton is going to have to do is thread that needle – highlighting, protecting and expanding what President Obama and his Democratic predecessors have accomplished on the one hand while at the same time communicating that she understands how much further we have to go. It won’t be an easy task.

Yesterday, Bernie Sanders gave a speech in which he allegedly dialed back the criticism of Hillary Clinton a bit but lambasted the Democratic Party instead:

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big-­money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor? Or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”

When I heard that, my first thought was, gosh, that’s not particularly helpful. How about at least acknowledging that there’s exactly one party that recently expanded healthcare coverage to 20 million people, passed Medicare, Social Security and CHIP and imposed any regulation at all on Wall Street and Big Pharma? And over the screaming intransigence of the only other party that is relevant in US elections?

But aren’t Sanders’ remarks a perfect segue for Clinton to deliver the message she must communicate? I still think Sanders will come around to endorsing Clinton and urging his supporters to support her and elect the Democratic Congressional majority she’ll need to get shit done. But in the meantime, maybe starting this conversation will do. If Hillary is going to sew it up, it’s time to thread that needle.

ETA: A piping hot new version of Cleek’s pie filter has just come out of the oven. Lay claim to your slice here.

Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech Part the Second: The Trump Doctrine

I’ve had a chance to read and reread the transcript of Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech, as well as reflect on both what was written and what was delivered. I will leave the fiskings and point by point takedowns of the contradictions, flaws in logic, petty vindictiveness, and inconsistencies to others. I want, instead, to focus in on the core of the address, which could, perhaps, be referred to the Trump Doctrine. The Trump Doctrine, at its core, can be boiled down to America (we) will be treated fairly. As I wrote yesterday in my initial impressions, this is essentially National Security Narcissism. The Trump Doctrine of America being treated fairly runs through all of the five weaknesses he identified in his remarks. Even when those weaknesses don’t bear a lot of close scrutiny or resemble reality or contradict each other. More than that, however, is that the Trump Doctrine is really the animating force or theme of the entire Trump campaign. The other candidates had better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican National Committee better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican establishment better treat Donald Trump fairly, the media better treat Donald Trump fairly, the state level parties that handle the primaries and all the delegates chosen better treat Donald Trump fairly. And Donald Trump will make them treat him fairly! And the only candidate, nay the only person in America who can ensure that you are treated fairly is Donald Trump. And if he isn’t treated fairly or the US isn’t treated fairly, then he will get even!

In one way this is pure genius. It seamlessly connects the domestic and foreign policy, for lack of a better term because there really has been no discussion of policies (or even the shorthand of ends and objectives by Mr. Trump or his campaign surrogates), within the campaign’s messaging. And by doing so it reaches right out to and connects with those supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and ambitions. The average American, in some cases even the above average American, really does not know how policy is formulated or strategy is developed for domestic issues, let alone for foreign or defense issues. Donald Trump’s speech yesterday cut through all of that reality – that how the official business of America at the Federal, state, and municipal levels is done is often arcane and messy – and reached right for his supporter’s guts. Donald Trump has consistently been telling Americans – in his Washington Post interview, as well as the one in the New York Times,  in his media appearances, at debates and town halls, and at his rallies – that they are being taken advantage of and that only Donald Trump can stop this. All he’s now done is formally extend it into the realm of foreign and defense policy and connect the pieces together.

So what does the Trump Doctrine, America will be treated fairly, really mean? Donald Trump has provided some explanation. NATO members must start paying their minimums and the alliance’s focus must be adjusted for a post Cold War world. Never mind that the Obama Administration was already engaging on the European defense spending issue and that NATO has already adjusted their mission set for the post Cold War world. Our other allies and partners must actually pay us for the privilege of our partnerships.  The reality is that South Korea and Japan, who were both explicitly mentioned in this regard, already do so. And while there was a small amount of aid given to Saudi Arabia for military training, $10,000, that is not even a rounding error in the foreign military sales budget. It also means that if trade deals don’t actually work out to the US’s advantage, that the US will simply walk away from them. While this may work in private business deals in the US, it is not that simple when dealing with multilateral agreements negotiated through diplomatic channels. Of course it may also not mean any of these things as it is not at all clear that beyond the concept of fair treatment, Mr. Trump has actually thought through most of what would happen should he, as President, try to respond when he feels that the US has not been treated fairly.

The only people that should be happy with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy remarks are Vladimir Putin, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic extremists running the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Mr. Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly screams a revanchist approach to foreign and defense policy. Should the US not be treated fairly, the US will then retaliate. Maybe that’s taking our things and going home. Maybe that’s getting even. Maybe its something else, but because Donald Trump’s emphasis is on unpredictability there is no way to really know.

Vladimir Putin must be thrilled. Especially over the tough talk directed towards NATO and the EU, China and the Middle East. One of the cores of Putinism is to roll back NATO’s post Cold War expansion and weaken, if not outright dissolve, the EU. Both because he feels they are interfering in his near abroad and because part of Putinism is also revanchist; seeking retribution (h/t for both to: Stiftungleostrauss) for American and European predation on a weak post Soviet Russia. Putin also would love to have the US pull back from the Middle East and Asia so he could extend his influence there, as well as open up new opportunities and markets.

Similarly, the Chinese leadership would love for the US, in a snit, to take its expeditionary military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and go home. It seems to have escaped Mr. Trump’s notice that the only thing keeping China from not just fully capturing the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands, but from China’s actions in regard to them from turning into a full out Asian-Pacific war is that the US’s military presence keeps the sea and ground lines of commerce and communication open in the region. The People’s Republic would be thrilled if the US pulled its personnel out of Japan and South Korea and ended regional exercises in a snit of alleged unfair treatment. They would also, just like Vladimir Putin, like to be able to seek new opportunities in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Arab North Africa. They are already pursuing their own interests in all of these places, as well as sub-Saharan Africa, so having the US pull out because its new President’s feeling were hurt would be a dream come true.

Finally, the Islamic extremists that run the Islamic State and al Qaeda are most likely giving prayers of thanks every time Mr. Trump talks about excluding Muslims from the US, going after not just suspected and identified terrorists, but members of their families as well, and bringing back water boarding and then adding worse – whatever worse is. Aside from alienating the leadership of the Muslim majority countries that we need to be partnered with to contain and ultimately attrit the Islamic State and al Qaeda until they are incapable of causing the harm, destruction, and chaos they currently do, Mr. Trump’s remarks are the best recruiting material an Islamic extremist could ask for. Rather than having to destroy the gray zone themselves in order to force Muslims to chose a side, the Islamic State and al Qaeda can sit back and watch Mr. Trump’s rhetoric do it for them. And then leverage it in recruiting materials.

While Donald Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly may not make a lot of specific policy sense in regard to the global system that the US exists within, it makes perfect sense as a campaign theme to further connect Trump with his supporters. The real genius behind the Trump Doctrine is that it is Donald Trump’s promise to his supporters and anyone amenable to his message that: Donald Trump will be treated fairly, only Donald Trump can ensure Americans will be treated fairly, and only Donald Trump can ensure that America will be treated fairly. National Security Narcissism indeed.

Donald Trump Foreign Policy Speech: Part 1.5 – Initial Impressions

Once I can get my hands on a transcript I’ll do a longer and fuller treatment. My initial impression and key take away from Mr. Trump’s foreign policy remarks is that the Trump Doctrine is: America will be treated fairly. Essentially National Security and Foreign Policy Narcissism. It is all about us and being treated well, properly, fairly however Mr. Trump defines those things. More to follow later on.

Donald Trump Foreign Policy Speech: Part the First

At noon today Donald Trump is going to give a foreign policy speech. The reporting indicates that these are prepared remarks that he will present with the assistance of a teleprompter. It will be interesting to see how much nuance and polish his aides, and specifically whoever was tasked to assist him with preparing this speech, will have been able to apply to the off the cuff remarks he has been hammering in regards to foreign policy. The key items to look for, and to compare and contrast today’s remarks with how he usually presents them, are:

  • The economic impacts of our foreign policy, specifically the defense components of maintaining an expeditionary force posture with significant overseas basing, exercise, and operational commitments. Mr. Trump has repeatedly asserted that our allies, partners, and clients have been taking advantage of us, they are costing us tremendous amounts of money, and that they will have to start paying up and beefing up their own defenses or they could find themselves without American military support.
  • NATO. Mr. Trump has repeatedly asserted that NATO is obsolete, too expensive, and not doing much for the US but getting it into trouble. Interestingly enough this is very close to the position held by Vladimir Putin. It should be interesting to see how Mr. Trump presents this portion of his speech since hiring Mr. Manafort as his senior advisor. Mr. Manafort’s has ties to Vladimir Putin, originally via Victor Yanukovych, for the purposes of shaping opinion in regards to Russia’s actions in Crimea and the Donbass.
  • Nuclear Weapons. Mr. Trump has repeatedly argued that nuclear weapons are a terrible threat and at the same time argued that if Japan and South Korea don’t open their wallets and start paying the US to secure them, then it would make sense for them to develop their own nuclear deterrent for dealing with North Korea.
  • China. Mr. Trump has relentlessly and repeatedly hammered that China is killing us economically while saying he alone could do proper and profitable, Nation to Nation, business with China. It will be interesting to see and hear what, if any, actual strategy Mr. Trump has to accomplish this.
  • Terrorism. Mr. Trump has repeatedly argued he is the only one who will get properly tough with terrorists, especially the Islamic State and its supporters. He has asserted that he would bring back water boarding and then transition to worse, would target the families of terrorists, and would knock the Islamic State out so fast. Here too it will be interesting to see what, if any, specifics are brought forward and how coherent they are or are not.

Here’s a link to the live feed, which I’m going to try to embed below. I’ll be back later tonight with an policy and strategy analysis of his remarks (and hopefully a link to the full transcript provided a transcript is released).


It Takes a Party

Though I ultimately voted for Clinton in my primary, I was an early Sanders supporter and still subscribe to the theory that his candidacy moved the political conversation in the Democratic Party leftward. I think this is a good thing.

The pendulum of U.S. politics had swung way too far to the right, beginning with Reagan and continuing with Bush I. President Bill Clinton slowed it down, but Bush II accelerated it again. President Obama arrested the rightward motion and turned it back.

Now we need to build on that and achieve a period of liberal ascendency, and we need to expand it beyond the federal level to retake state governments. That’s too big a job for one person. That sort of sustained effort takes a party.

One concern I had about Sanders’ candidacy, and particularly the tone the senator took after being routed in New York, was that the young voters he was attracting were lightly affiliated with the Democrats. But there are heartening signs that this may not be the case.

Josh Marshall at TPM has more about the Harvard Institute of Politics poll (alluded to in Anne Laurie’s morning post here) that explored millennials’ political leanings in depth. Here are some of the findings:

— Among 18 to 29 year olds, Clinton beats Trump 61% to 25% to 14% undecided

— In spring of 2015, this age group wanted the Democratic Party to win the next presidential election by 15 points (55% to 40%); a year later, that spread has increased to 28 points (61% to 32%)

— For the first time in five years, the number of self-identified Democrats is higher than self-identified independents (Dem 40%-Indy 36%-GOP 22%)

Marshall points to other evidence in the polling data that suggests younger voters are becoming not only more liberal but more Democratic and concludes: “the primary process itself – as divisive as it has sometimes seemed – has deepened young voters’ identification with the Democratic Party.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, reading that is a tonic after a week of hearing comments that echoed the disastrous run-up to Nadergeddon 2000, e.g., “duopoly” and “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference,” etc.

The Democratic Party isn’t perfect, but it is the vehicle we have to effect change. Secretary Clinton, who will be our nominee, understands this better than most. That may make her the perfect woman for this particular time in history.

Here’s hoping Senator Sanders’ younger supporters won’t wait for Secretary Clinton to court them but rather will roll up their sleeves and take on the hard tasks of party building to create the political future they want to see. Because it takes a party.

ETA: J-TWO-O is keeping a running tally of Democratic Party primary and caucus vote totals. Secretary Clinton’s lead increased to more than three million last night.