The Guardian view on the US midterms: Blue Wave wanted


The Guardian view on the US midterms: Blue Wave wanted

Note : The Democrats have taken control of The US House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would work to restore checks and balances and be a buffer against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s “assault” on Medicare, Medicaid, affordable healthcare, and on Americans with pre-existing conditions.

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These elections are more important than any in recent memory. Only a vote for a Democratic Congress can constrain Donald Trump and his campaigns of hate

The United States midterm elections are always important. But the elections on Tuesday matter in ways that few midterm contests can have matched. Yes, it will take more than one election to mend the damaged and angry political mood that, in the last two weeks alone, has seen a fervent Donald Trump supporter send bombs to several Democrats, and a white supremacist commit the most heinous act of antisemitic violence in the country’s history. The man in the White House is not the only thing that must change. But the journey has to start somewhere. You only have to imagine how much more difficult the journey will otherwise be to grasp the exceptional responsibility that rests on the shoulders of US voters on Tuesday.

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 “Mr. Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige “.–The Guardian

Donald Trump is not the sole reason why American politics have become so toxic, why Americans’ faith in their institutions has been so shaken, or the influence of the US for good in the world so diminished. In many ways Mr Trump was the product of already existing toxicity, shaken faith and declining prestige. But he has turbo-charged this decline deliberately, as a matter of conscious policy. He seeks consistently to be the president of some of the United States, not of the country as a whole. Against those who do not support or agree with him he deploys only hate and scorn. He lies and provokes as a matter of strategy. This is a president without precedent, and although in the US democracy is strong, it is not indestructible.

Take the issue of voting rights. It is often assumed that the US constitution embodies a federal right to vote. It does not. Voting is administered by the states. Most states are in Republican hands, and the districts that will send members of Congress to Washington this week have frequently been gerrymandered. In many states, including North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have imposed restrictions on early voting, postal voting and voter identification, all of them designed to prevent black Americans from voting. In Georgia, officials tried to close seven out the nine voting places in a predominantly black area on the pretext that disabled access was inadequate.

The US constitution is celebrated for its checks and balances. Yet partisanship is now so entrenched and unbending that institutions themselves are beginning to creak. The White House is in the hands of a lying and rule-breaking racist executive who, apart from all his policy failings, refuses to release his tax returns, blurs the distinction between official and personal interests, meddles in investigations in which he has no business and who deployed thousands of US troops for a purely partisan reason. Meanwhile, since the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, the supreme court is now more firmly than ever under partisan rightwing control, opening up the near certainty of an attempt to overturn US abortion rights.

So there is a strong constitutional case, as well as a strong political one, for recapturing the legislative branch from its dishonest and sycophantic right wing Republican leadership. Democratic control of the House of Representatives would constrain Mr Trump by investigating issues that have been shamelessly ignored by the current House leadership. Democratic control of the Senate, a long shot, would clip his wings even more. Democratic failure this week, by contrast, would be – and would be taken to be – an electoral endorsement of Mr Trump.

This is a pivotal election for Americans, for American democracy, and for the rest of the world. Yet it comes at a time of decent US economic growth and high employment, when Republicans are energised, and Democrats are divided about their future course. It is far from guaranteed, in the light of 2016, that Democratic enthusiasm and money will turn into the blue wave that we want. But there is no more important political task anywhere in the world today than to seize this moment.

WELL Done, Jim, you have earned your Badge of COURAGE FOR CNN


November 9, 2018

WELL Done, Jim, you have earned your Badge of COURAGE FOR CNN

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Bars CNN’s Acosta From the White House” (Election 2018 section, Nov. 8):

The revocation of Jim Acosta’s press credentials by the White House is the act of a banana republic dictatorship. To deny press credentials to a well-known, legitimate reporter for no other reason than that the President doesn’t like his questions is unprecedented in the United States and reveals the autocratic intentions of President Donald J Trump.

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This action must not pass unnoticed in the chaotic swirl of events unleashed by President Trump. Members of Congress, the rest of the press and the American people themselves must stand up against this abuse of executive power.

Tim Shaw
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

This attack on an independent press needs to be answered not just by condemnation but also by collective action. The Times and other mainstream media should all turn in their White House press credentials and refuse to enter the White House until Jim Acosta’s credentials are restored. Starved of the attention he constantly seeks, President Trump will likely retreat. In any case, losing White House access is preferable to allowing an authoritarian president to decide who gets to cover him.

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Stephen Hart
Buffalo

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Trump’s uncanny political instincts and his ruthless “amorality”—A Formidable Challenge


October 28, 2018

Trump’s uncanny political instincts and his ruthless “amorality”—A Formidable  Challenge to Blue Democrats.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/10/25/trump-owns-the-bloody-crossroads-of-american-politics

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“Democrats create mobs, Republicans create jobs” has become a rallying cry for Republicans ahead of the midterms

For those who believe that President Trump is a clownish know-nothing who somehow tapped into the mood of the electorate, or just got lucky in 2016, the last month has been instructive. Trump has demonstrated uncanny political instincts.  When combined with his ruthless “amorality” — a term used by one of his own senior officials in an anonymous New York Times op-ed — he presents a formidable challenge to his opponents.

Trump faces a familiar landscape. The party that holds the White House traditionally has low turnout and does badly in the midterm elections. But rather than accept this as inevitable, Trump has been aggressively trying to beat the odds. He’s turned what are usually disparate races in the House and Senate into a single national election, fought on an agenda that he has defined.

Item one on his agenda is immigration. The reason is obvious: The issue rouses his voters like no other. Trump campaigns relentlessly on it, making the false accusation that if the Democrats win, they will open up the borders and let everyone in.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump along with Republican Senator from Wyoming John Barrasso (L) and Republican Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky Mitch McConnell (R), walk to a Republican Senate luncheon in the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 28 2017.

He has used the current caravan of Central American migrants to highlight his case against the Democrats. Since Republicans are also still highly motivated by fears of terrorism, Trump threw in the accusation that there are “Middle Easterners” in the caravan. (First, there is no evidence for that claim, which Trump himself even admits; and second, if there were, it is an ugly slur to imply that any Middle Easterner is a terrorist.) As the media eagerly fact-checks his rhetoric, Trump seems well aware that they are incidentally repeating his claims and reinforcing the suspicion and fear in the public’s mind.

The second way Trump has turned the midterms into a national vote is by raising the specter of impeachment. Nothing would anger his base more than the notion of an elitist conspiracy (of lawyers, journalists and judges) determined to undo the results of the 2016 election. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declared that impeachment is “the only message [the Democrats] seem to have going into the midterms.”

Trump’s midterm strategy was foreshadowed by Stephen K. Bannon several months ago, when he explained, in an interview with me on CNN, that the Republicans needed to turn the midterms into a referendum on Trump. “Trump’s second presidential race will be on Nov. 6 of this year,” Bannon said. “He’s on the ballot, and we’re going to have an up-or-down vote.”

How does one counter this campaign? Many Democrats angrily maintain that they do not, in fact, favor open borders and impeachment — that their positions are more nuanced. But when you are explaining nuance in politics, you are losing. The Democratic Party has not found a way to go on the offensive and get Trump to explain that he has, in fact, a more complicated position on any given topic.

But there is a substantive problem in addition to one of style and tactics. The Democratic Party is insisting that recent election results are an unmistakable sign that it needs to change course and become far more populist on economics. But the data clearly show that the American public is very comfortable with where the party is on issues such as health care and inequality.

The challenge for the Democrats is a set of cultural issues — chiefly immigration, but also things such as transgender bathroom laws and respecting the flag — on which a key group of Americans thinks the Democrats are out of touch. An excellent study by the Democracy Fund found that people who had previously supported Barack Obama and then voted for Trump in 2016 (a crucial segment that Democrats could win back) agreed with the Democrats on almost all economic issues but disagreed with the party on immigration and other cultural matters.

Put simply, the study makes clear that the challenge for the Democratic Party politically is not whether it can move left economically but whether it can move right on culture. I say this as someone who agrees with the Democrats on almost every one of these cultural issues. But a large national party must demonstrate that it can accommodate some people who disagree with it on some issues. Doing this without abandoning one’s core principles is a challenge, but it is a challenge Democrats will have to embrace if they seek a durable governing majority.

Eventually, the electorate will be more young and diverse, but in the meantime, the Republican Party is utterly dominant in American politics because it owns the bloody crossroads where culture and politics meet.

 (c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The US-Saudi Relations Post Khashoggi


October 20, 2018

The US-Saudi Relations Post Khashoggi

The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. This time, too, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

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Jamal Khashoggi- Just  Dead Duck-Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow his death affect the relationship.

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WASHINGTON, DC – The alleged killing of the Saudi Arabian dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the United States, in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has unleashed a tidal wave of criticism. In the US Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike have promised to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions if its government is shown to have murdered Khashoggi.

But significant damage to bilateral ties, let alone a diplomatic rupture, is not in the cards, even if all the evidence points to a state-sanctioned assassination. Saudi Arabia is simply too crucial to US interests to allow the death of one man to affect the relationship. And with new allies working with old lobbyists to stem the damage, it is unlikely that the episode will lead to anything more than a lovers’ quarrel.

Saudi Arabia’s special role in American foreign policy is a lesson that US presidents learn only with experience. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, his advisers were bent on distancing the new administration from George H.W. Bush’s policies. Among the changes sought by Clinton’s national security adviser, Anthony Lake, was an end to the unfettered White House access that Saudi Arabian Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan enjoyed during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Bandar was to be treated like any other ambassador.

But Clinton quickly warmed to Bandar, and Bandar and the royal court would become crucial to Clinton’s regional policies, ranging from Arab-Israeli peace talks to containing Iraq. In 1993, when Clinton needed a quote from the Koran to go alongside those from the Old and New Testament for a ceremony marking an Israeli-Palestinian accord, he turned to the Saudi ambassador.

Before Donald Trump assumed office, he frequently bashed the Saudis and threatened to cease oil purchases from the Kingdom, grouping them with freeloaders who had taken advantage of America. But after the Saudis feted him with sword dances and bestowed on him the highest civilian award when he visited the Kingdom on his first trip abroad as US president, he changed his tune.

Even the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, could not damage the relationship. Though al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national, recruited 15 of the 19 hijackers from the Kingdom, senior Saudi officials dismissed the implications. In a November 2002 interview, the Saudi interior minister simply deemed it “impossible,” before attempting to redirect blame by accusing Jews of “exploiting” the attacks and accusing the Israeli intelligence services of having relationships with terrorist organizations.

Americans seethed, and it appeared that the awkward alliance between a secular democracy and a secretive theocracy, cemented by common interests during the Cold War, was plunging into the abyss separating their values. But the alliance not only survived; it deepened. Bandar provided key insights and advice as President George W. Bush planned the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Today, American politicians are again ratcheting up their rhetoric following Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Turks claim they have audio and video revealing his death, and Senator Lindsey Graham warned, “If it did happen there would be hell to pay,” while Senator Benjamin Cardin has threatened to target sanctions at senior Saudi officials.

But Saudi Arabia wears too many hats for America to abandon it easily. Though the US no longer needs Saudi oil, thanks to its shale reserves, it does need the Kingdom to regulate production and thereby stabilize markets.

American defense contractors are dependent on the billions the Kingdom spends on military hardware. Intelligence cooperation is crucial to ferreting out jihadists and thwarting their plots. But, most important, Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab bulwark against Iranian expansionism. The Kingdom has supported proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to contain Iran’s machinations. Any steps to hold the Saudis responsible for Khashoggi’s death would force the US to assume responsibilities it is far more comfortable outsourcing.

It is a role America has long sought to avoid. When the United Kingdom, the region’s colonial master and protector, decided that it could no longer afford such financial burdens, US leaders ruled out taking its place. Policymakers were too focused on Vietnam to contemplate action in another theater. Instead, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conceived a policy whereby Iran and Saudi Arabia, backed by unlimited US military hardware, would police the Gulf. While Iran stopped playing its role following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Saudis still do.

It is a quandary Trump seems to grasp. Though he vowed “severe punishment” if the Saudis did indeed kill Khashoggi, he refused to countenance canceling military contracts, instead lamenting what their loss would mean for American jobs.

It is not only defense contractors who are going to bat for the Saudis. Before Khashoggi became Washington’s topic du jour, the Saudis paid about ten lobbying firms no less than $759,000 a month to sing their praises in America’s halls of power.

But it may be the Saudis’ new best friend who will throw them a lifeline. As Iran has become the biggest threat to Israel, the Jewish State has made common cause with the Saudis. Former Saudi bashers such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confidant Dore Gold now meet with the Kingdom’s officials. Following the 2013 military coup that toppled Egypt’s democratically elected government, Israeli leaders urged US officials to embrace the generals. They are likely to do the same today if US anti-Saudi sentiment imperils their Iran strategy.

The US-Saudi relationship has been a rocky one, and its setbacks and scandals have mostly played out away from the public eye. Yet it has endured and thrived. This time, too, in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance, common interests and mutual dependence will almost certainly prevail over the desire to hold the Saudis to the standards expected of other close US allies.

Safeguarding A Rules-based Trading System against America First Trade Economics


October 16, 2018

Safeguarding A Rules-based Trading System against America First Trade Economics

by Dr. Mari Pangestu, Universitas Indonesia

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

 

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“Without concerted effort and a coalition of willing leadership, including from the EU and East Asia, the future of the rules-based trading system will remain under threat.”–Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu

Despite expectations that the US Federal Reserve would raise interest rates, capital flows to the United States have led to the appreciation of the US dollar against most major currencies.

The hardest hit countries are Argentina and Turkey, which are experiencing fiscal issues complicated by their political situations. Brazil, South Africa and the emerging countries in Asia have also been affected — albeit at a lower rate of depreciation of their currencies in the 10 to 12 per cent range. Even Australia and China have experienced depreciation of around 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

The level of depreciation experienced by different economies reflects how investors perceive their different fundamental macroeconomic conditions, especially the level of their current account and fiscal deficits and policy outlooks.

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The rising US dollar raises questions about the capacity of emerging economies to service their dollar-denominated debts and the vulnerabilities this could expose in their financial systems. Even if the current economic conditions point to a low potential for contagion from Argentina and Turkey, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde recently warned that ‘these things could change rapidly’. The uncertainty that already exists is a clear and present danger.

The uncertainty in the world economy has been increasing since Brexit and the election of President Trump in 2016, and in 2017 as the United States left the Trans-Pacific Partnership and announced many threats to impose trade restrictions. This uncertainty has heightened since January 2018 when US President Donald Trump made good on his threats to remedy bilateral trade deficits — what he sees as ‘unfair trade’ practices against the United States — by imposing tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, followed by aluminium and steel.

Since March, the greatest uncertainty has been from the brewing tit for tat trade conflict between the United States and China, which started with the imposition of 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of China’s exports to the United States. China retaliated with the same sized tariffs on the same amount of trade from the United States. Trump then escalated the trade war further in September with the announcement of 10 per cent tariffs on US$200 billion worth of China’s exports to the United States.

The US–China trade conflict and the uncertainty surrounding it is expected to have knock on effects on global trade and investment flows. The impact of the reduction in China’s exports to the United States on China’s growth will reduce China’s imports, which in turn will impact the many countries that China has become a major trading partner for.

This means that China and other countries facing US trade restrictions will look for new markets for their goods. The situation has already led some countries to impose restrictions or initiate trade remedy investigations, for instance on steel. This uncertainty has and will continue to influence trade and investment, as businesses evaluate how the increased restrictions will affect their supply chains.

It is too early to tell how large the disruption will be, as it is not easy to dismantle supply chains. But the costs down the line could be great as businesses re-evaluate their trade and investment decisions to insulate themselves from tariffs rather than to maximise their competitiveness.

The most concerning aspect of all this is that, after 75 years of being its greatest advocate, the United States is now the biggest threat to the future of the rules-based trading system that has provided predictability and fairness in the way the world engages in trade. There is no clear light at the end of the tunnel.

The key question is: what is Trump’s intention? Is it to change the rules of the game to benefit the United States and address China’s ‘non-market-oriented policies’ or is it just anti-trade and America First? Assuming it is the former, there are at least three important responses needed.

First is safeguarding the stability of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the overarching framework to provide predictability, fairness and stability. To this end, it is vital that the WTO dispute settlement mechanism continues to operate. The test case is the Chinese and EU case against US steel and aluminium tariffs and getting past the blocking of panel judge nominations by the United States.

Ensuring that the United States does not use blunt unilateral instruments to address its concerns also means that reforms to the WTO rule book are needed. More must be done to address concerns around intellectual property rights, investment, the environment, labour, competition policy, subsidies, tax, digital data and the treatment of developing countries.

Second, the process of opening-up must continue, with or without the United States. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good start. And it is of the utmost importance that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations are concluded in November this year. These are all important processes to signal the continued commitment of East Asia to expanding markets and fostering flows of trade and investment.

Third, and what most will agree is the most important process, is unilateral reforms. Given increased global uncertainty and limited policy space for fiscal stimulus, structural reforms are a must for East Asian countries, especially China. These range from trade and investment reforms, as well as reforms related to competition policy, intellectual property, the role of state-owned enterprises and sustainability. As in the past, unilateral reforms are more successfully undertaken when there is peer pressure and benchmarking from international commitments.

Without concerted effort and a coalition of willing leadership, including from the EU and East Asia, the future of the rules-based trading system will remain under threat.

Dr. Mari Pangestu is former Indonesian trade minister and Professor at the University of Indonesia.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Asian crisis, ready or not’.

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World


 

October 16, 2018

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World

Reviewed by: Francis P. Sempa

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The “liberal world order” created by the United States after the Second World War is an historical anomaly that may be coming to an end, according to the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan in his new book The Jungle Grows Back.

Kagan, who served in the Reagan State Department in the mid-to-late 1980s, is the quintessential foreign policy neoconservative who believes that “the liberal order is like a garden, artificial and forever threatened by the forces of nature.” It can only be preserved, he writes, by a “persistent, unending struggle against the vines and weeds that are constantly working to undermine it from within and overwhelm it from without.”

The “vines and weeds” that threaten it today, according to Kagan, all come from the political Right—authoritarian foreign powers such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea and domestic conservatives who yearn “for order, for strong leadership, and . . . for the security of family, tribe, and nation.”

Kagan views authoritarianism as a greater threat to the survival of democracy than communism because in his view an unenlightened authoritarianism is more consistent with human nature. The United States and the countries of Western Europe, he writes, are retreating to nationalism and tribalism while moving away from the enlightened universalism that has supported the liberal world order since 1945.

He criticizes the foreign policy “restraint” of the Obama administration and the “America First” foreign policy of the Trump administration, yet he acknowledges that both appeal to many Americans who yearn to be a “normal” country and who recoil from being the world’s policeman.

For Kagan and some other neoconservatives, the end of the Cold War changed nothing. America’s global responsibilities remain the same, albeit with different adversaries and more diffuse threats. Those who today counsel restraint, Kagan warns, risk repeating the errors of the 1930s and the 1970s when America’s timidity enabled geopolitical threats to grow.

Kagan worries that as American power wanes in Europe and East Asia, the transformation of the global power structure accomplished by the creative statesmanship of the immediate post-World War II period will end. European geopolitics may return with a vengeance, while East Asian geopolitics will intensify. He even raises the specter of nationalistic Germany and Japan once more acting assertively on the world stage.

Although Kagan decries the “new realism” that emphasizes the limits of American power, it was, ironically, the success of Kagan’s worldview as practiced by the George W. Bush administration that produced the political environment for a more restrained American foreign policy.

The seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and the unsuccessful war in Iraq—waged to implant democratic values and practices in regions inhospitable to democracy—demonstrated for those not blinded by hubris the limits of American power.

In some parts of the book, Kagan confounds more than he informs. China and North Korea, as Kagan surely knows, are not rightist conservative powers; they are leftist communist regimes. Americans, despite Kagan’s claim to the contrary, did not exaggerate the risks communism posed to their way of life. A successful U.S. foreign policy does not require “a belief in the universalism of rights.”

Geopolitical restraint has a very rich tradition in American history—from George Washington’s wise policy of neutrality in the 1790s and his wise counsel to avoid sentimental attachments to foreign powers, to John Quincy Adams’ counsel to avoid going abroad to seek monsters to destroy, to Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” diplomacy, to Dwight Eisenhower’s strategic deterrence, to Richard Nixon’s triangular diplomacy, to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength.”

Those presidents succeeded by husbanding and deftly wielding American economic and military power to support American interests, not by dispatching American troops willy nilly to spread democracy or transform the world. America, John Quincy Adams said, is the well-wisher of freedom to all but the champion and guarantor only of her own.

While Kagan’s worldview contains some elements of Wilsonianism, he also writes persuasively about some eternal truths of international relations that should inform any U.S. administration’s approach to the world.

He understands that it is American military predominance, not “soft” or “smart” power, that ultimately supports the U.S.-led world order. He realizes that the struggle for power is a permanent feature of international relations.

He has a pessimistic view of human nature and notes that policy choices are frequently limited to bad and worse options.He knows that there are no permanent solutions to foreign policy problems and that containing or keeping a lid on trouble is often the best we can do.

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He recognizes that a rising China poses the greatest geopolitical challenge to the United States in the early 21st century.

Kagan cites Bismarck and Disraeli, both realists, as the most masterful statesmen in history. He might better appreciate counsels of restraint by remembering that it was Bismarck who wisely remarked: “Man cannot control the current of events, he can only float with them and steer.”