By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 23, 2018)
On all levels, the Trump administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on illegal immigration is an unmitigated disaster.
Politically, the policy has put the Trump administration on the defensive on immigration at a time when the public’s support for increasing levels of immigration is at its highest level in 20 years. Taken together, those two trends will spell disaster in November for the Republicans.
Many conservatives still believe the GOP can win in November if they convince the voting public of the Democrats’ supposed desire for ‘open borders.’ But considering most everything Trump has done with respect to illegal immigration was also done on some level during Barack Obama’s administration, the mainstream Democratic Party has its own anti-immigrant flag it can wave at selectively targeted voters.
Perhaps if the Trump administration’s efforts to slow illegal immigration had been well-planned and humane that political strategy would have merit; but, in the wake of the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy and its family separations, scaring the public about the Democrats’ views on immigration has become much harder.
Even worse for the Republicans, the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy has robbed the Trump administration of its months-long momentum in public support. Coming out of the Singapore summit, Donald Trump’s presidency was experiencing its highest levels of public support since early in his term. And now? According to the political futures market, PredictIt, the Democrats’ chance of regaining control of the U.S. House has risen from 58 percent in early June to 62 percent in late June. A four percentage-point increase may seem minor, but considering the Democrats experienced a 15 percentage-point decline in its chances between April and early June, a four percentage-point increase must feel like senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions just handed the Democrats a life-jacket.
Some time soon, Trump needs to temporarily direct his ire away from the media and the Democrats and realize two of his closest advisers, Miller and Sessions, have single-handily jeopardized the Republican’s political fortunes going forward.
Over 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border between May 5 and June 9 according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This human rights atrocity, the product of the administration’s septic form of nationalism and a systemic inattention to policy details, has no clear resolution in sight.
According to Lisa Frydman, an immigration law attorney at KIND, an organization that protects unaccompanied children who enter the U.S. immigration system, there will be cases where children will remain back in the U.S. for months after their parents are deported. Even for a competent administration with a well-defined policy, family reconciliation could take months.
On a social level, the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy probably creates more problems than it solves. While Sessions said the policy is intended to deter future illegal immigration, including human trafficking, as of now, no evidence exists suggesting it has done so. And while Trump has defended his administration’s aggressive anti-illegal immigration policy as an aggressive approach to preventing the movement of MS-13 gang members into the U.S., there is a real possibility that the trauma thousands of children are experiencing due to the policy’s family separations may increase the risk factors in children associated with their joining gangs.
On a moral level, this draconian and cruel immigration enforcement policy has been condemned by religious leaders across the country, including by Southern Baptist evangelicals at their recent annual convention. Internationally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights official called on Trump administration to halt its “unconscionable” policy, saying it punishes “children for their parent’s action.” How ironic it is that, as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announce the U.S. is leaving the UN’s Human Rights Council, the U.S. is committing a human rights violation on a scale it hasn’t seen since our country’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The premeditated and reckless infliction of traumas on children is morally indefensible. Sessions can quote all of the bible verses he wants on the importance of obeying the law, there is no biblical justification for separating families fleeing violence in their home countries. None. And, even if there were, it wouldn’t make its current implementation acceptable.
Actor George Takei, best known as Star Trek’s Sulu, whose family was relocated to an internment camp, thinks the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy is even worse. “At least during the internment of Japanese-Americans, I and other children were not stripped from our parents. We were not pulled screaming from our mothers’ arms. We were not left to change the diapers of younger children by ourselves,” Takei wrote in an essay for Foreign Policy. “At least during the internment, we remained a family, and I credit that alone for keeping the scars of our unjust imprisonment from deepening on my soul.”
The ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy (even without family separations) is a bad idea, and even if it should lead to fewer border crossings in the future, has only polarized the country more on the immigration issue and made it harder — not easier — to pass substantive immigration policy before the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. President, you can start to minimize the political damage now. Please fire Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 6, 2018)
First, the good news for the Republicans…
If Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that the past is not always prologue.
The assumption is that the President’s party will lose a significant number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections.
History supports this assumption.
Over the past 21 midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average 30 seats in the House, and an average 4 seats in the Senate.
Don’t assume that will happen in 2018.
The most recent polling data, as summarized by RealClearPolitics.com, suggests the Democrats are losing the momentum they possessed only a few months ago.
The RealClearPolitics.com generic ballot for the 2018 midterms gives the Democrats roughly a 3-point advantage. And, based on past experience, generic ballot numbers are predictive of House election outcomes, as seen in this graphic produced by Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.com:
Donald Trump’s job approval numbers are also on the rise, and have been since December 2017. If the current trends continue, Trump could be looking at approval numbers around 48 percent around election time.
Nonetheless, even with gerrymandering and geographic clustering working to the Democrats’ disadvantage, the prediction market, PredictIt, is still giving the Democrats a roughly 60 percent chance of re-taking control of the U.S. House. But that is significantly lower than a month ago when PredictIt was giving the Democrats a 70 percent chance.
The trends are in the GOP’s favor right now and have been since the beginning of the year.
Another bad sign for the Democrats is the number of “toss-up” races (based on polling) in the upcoming U.S. House elections.
If we assume the “leaning” Democratic and Republican House districts end up going to the party currently favored, that gives the Democrats 195 seats and the Republicans 206 seats. That leaves 34 House contests considered “toss-ups,” according to RealClearPolitics.com. It takes 218 seats to form a House majority. In other words, the GOP just needs to win 12 of the 34 “toss-up” districts. And if these 34 districts are truly as even as the polling suggests, then we would expect the GOP to win 17 of these races— enough to keep their House majority.
A year ago, it would have been hard to find a Republican that thought their party would be in this position six months out from the midterm elections.
But the GOP is in that position. And why?
Here are the major factors most likely behind the Republicans’ more optimistic outlook for the midterms:
More and more of the American public is giving Trump credit for the strong economy. “Nearly 2 in 3 Americans think the nation’s economy is in good shape, and most of them believe President’s Trump’s policies are at least somewhat responsible for that,” according a recent CBS News poll.
American’s are behind President Trump heading into the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit later this month in Singapore. Three-quarters of Americans support the idea of a Trump-Kim summit, according to a CNN poll, and 53 percent approve of how Trump has been handling the North Korean situation.
There may be a growing Trump-Russia collusion fatigue among Americans. Even Democrats recognize the possibility: “I think the American public will be tired of it (the Trump-Russia probe) if this is not wound down in this calendar year,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said in May at Recode’s Code Conference, a California gathering of senior tech executives.
If it were any other president, these positive factors would have the party in power talking about increasing their legislative majority in Congress.
Donald Trump is not any other president.
He employs a high-risk strategy of sowing division within the electorate (immigration, Spygate, NFL player protests, etc.) on the assumption this will motivate his base and enough independents to keep his governing coalition intact.
We will see if that strategy works.
But, now, here is the bad news for the Republicans…
These current polling numbers, whether it is the generic congressional ballot or for the individual House races, do not yet reflect the potentially higher quality of Democratic House challengers.
Candidate quality remains one of the most important predictors of electoral success (see research on this topic here and here).
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has raised $151 million for the 2018 election cycle compared to $122 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
While there is reason to be skeptical about the impact of money on congressional election outcomes (Please check out G. Elliott Morris’ work on this topic here), I think most politicians would rather have more money than less money when compared to their opponent.
Furthermore, the decision to run for Congress was most likely made in late 2017, when Trump’s approval and the generic congressional ballot numbers were still in the Democrats’ favor. This generally means higher quality Democratic candidates were more likely to decide to run for Congress than in previous election cycles.
The improved approval numbers for Trump and the GOP since 2017 may not be helping the GOP’s prospects as much as they would have had they occurred earlier in 2017.
Yes, the Republicans are looking better heading into the midterms. But is it too late for them to save their House majority?
We are also seeing generally high turnout rates among Democrats for special elections and primaries, which bodes well for their prospects in November. Midterm election results are largely a function of partisan turnout differentials and 2018 is looking more and more like 2006 (when the Democrats gained 31 House seats).
Unpredictable events could still change the dynamics of the 2018 midterms…
Still, a lot will happen between now and November. If we assume prediction markets, such as PredictIt.com, are like other financial markets, only new information (i.e., ‘shocks’ to the system) will alter the probabilities of the Democrats winning control of the House.
Its not hard to think of potential ‘shocks’ to the electoral prospects of either party in November. Here is just a few possibilities:
While the probability of a recession between now and November is very low, it is not zero. According to economist Ted Kavadas, as of June 4th, the “Yield Curve Model” shows a 11.1 percent probability of a recession in the U.S. in the next 12 months. An unexpected recession would be deadly to the GOP’s prospects in November. We might be looking at a GOP loss of 60 or more seats in such a scenario.
And even if the country doesn’t dip into a recession, a trade war between the U.S. and its major trading partners (Canada, China, Mexico, Europe etc.) is a real possibility. Would a trade war help or hurt the GOP’s prospects? In Iowa, at least, where Trump won the presidential vote by nine percent over Hillary Clinton, pork tariffs by Mexico and China could cost Iowa pork producers over $560 million a year. If that is allowed to continue, Trump and the GOP will suffer significant electoral losses in Iowa in November 2018.
The Robert Mueller III-led investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians will produce more indictments over the next six months. If those indictments directly concern an actual conspiracy (i.e., collusion) between the Trump campaign and the Russians, this will not help the GOP’s chances in November; particularly, if future indictments are issued against anyone in Trump’s inner circle: Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, or Trump himself.
In the GOP’s favor, if Trump and Kim reach of tangible decision in Singapore regarding North Korea’s nuclear program, it is difficult to imagine this won’t help the GOP in the midterm elections. A failure to reach an agreement, on the other hand, may not work for or against the GOP. It is hard to know how a diplomatic failure would be perceived by the American voter, but I suspect it will depend on how the ‘failure’ is spun within the major media outlets.
Also, in the GOP’s favor, is a strong economy that is looking more robust by the day. It is hard to imagine an American voting population that does not consider the strength of the U.S. economy when making their vote decisions for U.S. congressional candidates. The Democrats continue to talk down the U.S. economy, but the reality remains…the U.S. economy hasn’t been stronger since 2000.
The GOP should be encouraged by recent trends. Trump is not the drag on the Republicans as he once was only a few months ago. Assuming no major mistakes on his part over the next six months (and that is a tough assumption to make), the Republican Party is poised to minimize the damage from the 2018 midterms. Will they keep control of the U.S. House? Probably not, but it will be closer than many Democrats think. And though the U.S. Senate hasn’t been discussed in this essay, the prospects of the Democrats gaining control of the Senate are diminishing by the day.
Short of Mueller revealing tangible evidence that Donald Trump himself colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, the U.S. Senate is a lost cause for the Democrats.
All eyes therefore should be on the U.S. House where the Democrats, while not in as comfortable position as they were in late 2017, are still likely to take control of the House after the midterm elections.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 31, 2018)
The U.S. may be on the brink of one of the greatest foreign policy achievements in its post-WWII history. As of today, I’d say the chances President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agree to any substantive plan to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula are slim, though not zero.
But hope is eternal and even Trump’s sometimes erratic behavior is now being viewed by some of his most ardent critics as an asset in dealing with North Korea.
“A volatile negotiating style is sometimes a sign of an inexperienced or uncertain bargainer,” opines Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “But it’s Trump’s approach, and however bizarre the route, he’s nearing a diplomatic breakthrough.”
Its obviously too soon to put North Korea’s denuclearization on the list of major U.S. foreign policy achievements. But, if it should happen, what else would already be on the list since World War II?
I’ve compiled an informal list of the U.S.’s ten biggest foreign policy achievements since WWII. Why ten? I couldn’t come up with an 11th. So forget an honorable mention list.
The criteria for making the list was fairly straightforward. The accomplishment had to represent not just a significant improvement over the past, but a durable achievement. For this reason, Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement did not qualify for this list.
The achievement had to make the U.S. and its allies safer and/or stronger vis-a-vis its adversaries. The strengthening could be economic, militarily or both.
In addition, the U.S. foreign policy achievement’s impact had to be international and not primarily domestic, which eliminated Bill Clinton’s greatest foreign policy achievement: the investment of the ‘peace dividend’ from the collapse of the Soviet Union into America’s technology and innovation economy.
With these informal qualifications, here is my top 10 for the U.S.’s greatest foreign policy achievements since World War II.
Coming in at number 10…
10. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Treaty of 1948
GATT was a series of multilateral trade agreements designed to reduce trade quotas and tariffs among the treaty’s signatory nations. The first GATT agreement, that included 23 countries, took effect in 1948 and formed the economic foundation for the liberal globalist ideology that dominates today’s world economy.
The agreement itself was not as powerful as many wanted. Yet, President Harry Truman understood the GATT agreement, as weak as it was, would preserve international trade co-operation and become an critical party of U.S. foreign economic and security policy going forward.
Moreover, the 1948 agreement was seen merely an interim measure as there was an expectation the newly-formed United Nations would create an agency to supersede GATT. That never happened. Instead, GATT became the primary tool by which world trade was liberalized and expanded immediately after World War II. It was not until the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 that was GATT finally replaced.
Up to 1995, GATT’s critical role in the world economy was significant as up to 90 percent of world trade was governed by GATT prior to the WTO.
9. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949)
No post World War II agreement had broader implications than the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Following the end of the war, the fear of Communist expansion dominated discussions in the West European capitals and, in response to Soviet expansion, the U.S. and 11 Western European nations formed NATO.
The rival Warsaw Pact, created in 1955 by the Soviet Union and its Communist partners in Eastern Europe, formed the basis for what would be the Cold War, which would last until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
8. Creation of the United Nations (1945)
In June 1945, a year after D-Day which lead to the eventual defeat of Germany and the European Axis powers, the United Nations Charter was adopted. Its goals were as profound as the diverse collection of countries sanctioning its existence at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945.
Fifty nations, representing the 80 percent of the world’s population that had just defeated Germany to end the European portion of World War II, met in San Francisco to form an international union predicated on the principle that world wars were an unacceptable means through which to solve international problems.
Even as it was agreed, with considerable dissent, that the “Big Five” (United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) could exercise “veto” powers on any action by the United Nations’ powerful Security Council, the General Assemblyof nations signed onto the United Nations charter knowing its imperfections were far outweighed by its potential.
“The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed,” said President Truman in addressing the final San Francisco Conference session, “is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself. With this Charter the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people.”
On October 24, 1945, the UN officially came into existence. To date, despite its many critics, the UN stands as of the post World War II’s greatest international achievements.
7. SALT I and SALT II Treaties (1972, 1979)
It may seem odd to put SALT and START treaty regimes between the U.S. and Soviet Union ahead of the creation of the UN and NATO, but it is done with some thought. As important as the UN and NATO were in creating institutional frameworks for collectively organizing the common interests of nations, they were band-aids — deeply flawed at their conception and in their application to solve international problems.
Upon the learning in the late 1960s that the Soviet Union had developed a Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) defense system to defend Moscow in case of an all-out nuclear war with the U.S., President Lyndon Johnson met with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to start strategic arms limitations talks (SALT).
The elimination of nuclear weapons was (and is) a dream. The SALT discussions therefore focused on the more practical goal of limiting the development of advanced offensive and defensive strategic systems.
Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, took over the SALT talks and on May 26, 1972, in Moscow, he and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed an ABM Treaty and an interim SALT agreement.
Starting with Johnson’s initiative and Nixon’s follow through, the U.S. and Soviet Union for the first time decided to limit their nuclear arsenals.
The next round of SALT discussions began immediately after the signing of SALT I with its focus on Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicles (MIRVs) and on June 17, 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty in Vienna.
The key element of SALT II was the limitation of both nations’ nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles and restricting MIRVs, though the treaty itself was never ratified by the U.S. Senate due, in part, to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Nonetheless, both countries adhered to SALT II’s requirements, even as the next U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, pursued the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
6. START I Treaty (1991)
Despite opposition to President Carter’s SALT II agreement with the Soviets, President Ronald Reagan adhered to its restrictions, even as he authorized pursuit of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), otherwise known as “Star Wars.”
At the same time, Reagan began negotiations for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a bilateral treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that would reduce (not just limit) the number of strategic offensive arms. The first START agreement was signed in July 1991 (taking effect in 1994). START I was the largest arms control treaty in world history and its implementation resulted in the removal of almost 80 percent of all strategic nuclear weapons in the world at the time.
START II was signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on January 3, 1993, and banned the use of MIRVs on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). START II, however, never came into effect, even though it was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996 and in Russia in 2000. In June 2002, Russia withdrew from the treaty in response to U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.
START I, however, remains a milestone in the effort to reduce the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.
5. The First Gulf War (1991)
This was the most difficult decision in the list of Top 10 foreign policy achievements. The First Gulf War is the only U.S. military action to make the list and, while successful in its primary goal of removing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army from Kuwait, the blowback from this war was significant and could be argued that it continues to this day.
When Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, President George H. W. Bush faced the this country’s first post-Cold War international crisis. In response, Bush orchestrated a large international coalition to oppose Iraq’s aggression and, following an intensive air campaign in January 1991, launched a land war offensive that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
President Bush and his foreign policy team built a broad coalition ranging from the NATO allies to a number of Middle Eastern countries. Even Russia, an ally to the Hussein regime, while offering no direct military or material support, diplomatically called for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
The run-up to the war’s start was a model for how diplomatic efforts can work in tandem with military planning; and the effort, as executed by the Bush administration, put the coalition troops in the best possible position to successfully carry out their mission. However, the First Gulf War’s unintended consequences cannot be ignored as they led directly to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the subsequent attacks against the the U.S. (U.S.S. Cole, 9/11 attacks, etc.)
The U.S. has proven to be good at starting and executing wars — its the ending of wars where the U.S. has problems.
4. Camp David Accords (1979)
As we read the latest events out of the Middle East, it is easy to forget sometimes that a lasting and durable peace between the State of Israel and Egypt has existed, unbroken, since the 1979 Camp David Accords.
Israel and Egypt had fought two (short) wars against each other in the previous 15 years and the prospects for peace seemed unlikely in the midst of a growing Palestinian armed resistance against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But, largely through President Jimmy Carter’s personal initiative in bringing two diametrically opposite leaders to the table, a peace agreement was hammered out. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt for security guarantees (that have not since been broken). It was an achievement that still stands as a model for the future.
Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, gave us a template and path on how to bring peace to the Middle East (at least on a bilateral basis). The Camp David Accords were without question President Carter’s crowning foreign policy achievement and though peace has not been the rule in the Middle East since the Accords, Israel can rightfully point to a peace treaty with Jordan and a significant thawing of relations with Saudi Arabia as indirect products of the Camp David Accords. Of course, having a common enemy (Iran) is playing a big factor in the new Israel-Saudi detente.
Regardless, the important legacy of the Camp David Accords is unquestionable and is still being written.
3. Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
On the heals of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and a disastrous meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchevin Vienna, Austria, President John F. Kennedy had not earned high marks on foreign policy in his young presidency.
That changed over the course of 13 days in October 1962, and for good reason. His leadership, along with that of his Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, averted the very real potential of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union. At the very least, a ‘hot war’ was possible, which would have been the first between two nuclear powers.
Screwing up again was not an option for the Kennedy administration in October 1962.
As revealed by U.S. reconnaissance photos, the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles were discovered on Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. shoreline. A warhead launch from Cuba could have deposited a nuclear bomb on Washington, D.C. within 5 minutes.
Needless to say, the stakes were high.
In his October 22, 1962, national television address, Kennedy informed Americans about the presence of the missiles, announced a naval blockade surrounding Cuba, and let the world know the U.S. would use military force if the missiles were not removed.
What the American people didn’t know, getting to the naval blockade decision was not an easy one for Kennedy and there was tremendous pressure from the Pentagon and other ‘hawks’ in his administration to invade Cuba from the start.
With the dynamics behind how the crisis was resolved still being debated to this day by historians and academics, Khrushchev offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. agreeing never to invade Cuba and to also remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
The Cuban Missile Crisis remains one of the most discussed and analyzed foreign policy crises ever; and, what the U.S. and Soviet Union (now Russia) learned from the October 1962 events has, arguably, kept us from getting that close to a nuclear war ever again.
2. Nixon visits China (1973)
You know something is historically iconic when it can used as a referential device for other, unrelated events. ‘Only Nixon could go to China,’ is one of the common refrains, often used to explain why some major policy breakthroughs can only happen if previously strong opponents of the policy take up its cause. “Only Ronald Reagan could have pushed a national health care system through Congress,” was a frequent lament of a former colleague of mine. And, so on and so forth.
It is true, President Richard Nixon was a staunch anti-communist. It is also likely if a Democratic president had opened relations with Communist China, Nixon would have been its fiercest critic.
But politics has a funny way of turning preachers into sinners and soldiers into poets.
Nixon arrived in China on February 21, 1972, the Watergate break in four months later was still just a glint in his eye. At that time Nixon stepped off Air Force One into the cold air of Beijing, his administration was struggling with a war in Vietnam that looked increasingly like the South Vietnamese regime would not survive. Nixon knew the Vietnam War was no longer about containing communism’s expansion, but containing the damage to U.S. prestige around the world.
Yet, in February 1972, Nixon was never more confident in his ability to change the course of history. He was going to bring about an honorable peace in Vietnam, and further limit the Soviet’s ambitions by opening U.S. relations with the communist Chinese, Realpolitik‘s version of a Phil Niekro knuckleball.
It was diplomatic brilliance, and it worked, more in the long-term than in the short-term, however.
One of President Harry Truman’s most vocal critics at the time for losing China to the communists in 1949, Nixon thought he was ideal to fix Harry’s mistake. But, more strategically, Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw an opportunity to drive a small, but significant, wedge between the China and the Soviets, who were having minor border war skirmishes in the late 1960s. Nixon and Kissinger even thought a U.S.-China relations thaw would make the Soviets more amenable to U.S. interests.
China’s interests in the ‘thaw’ were even more complex, as the country was still in the middle of its brutal Cultural Revolution in which millions of Chinese intellectuals, leaders, and common citizens were persecuted for ‘bourgeois’ beliefs and activities. The Chinese economy was a mess and there was no better or quicker fix for a mess like that than American investment and trade.
In reality, Nixon’s trip to China was more symbolic than productive. But it did open the door to a symbiotic economic relationship that would eventually dominate the world economy forty years later.
The U.S.-China relationship is not as close as U.S.-European relations, and as we’ve seen with China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, disagreements are no longer restricted to economic issues. China is going to be a world superpower soon (if it isn’t already). Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, while not necessarily changing the inevitability or timing of China’s rise, it marks a significant point in history where the U.S., the leading economic and military power at the time, was preparing to welcome the Chinese back into a leadership role on the world stage.
Nixon will not be remembered as a great U.S. president, but by extending a hand of friendship to China, he showed a level of foresight quite rare among presidents.
1. Reagan and G. H. W. Bush manage the demise of the Soviet Union (1980s)
No single post-WWII conflict dominated American foreign policy as did theCold War with the Soviet Union. Our containment policy towards Soviet communism led directly to our involvement in Vietnam and underscored our country’s efforts to secure Middle East energy supplies for the West and our allies. In fact, many of the significant international crises involving the U.S. after World War II involved, directly or indirectly, the Cold War conflict: the Cuban Missile Crisis (1961), the Berlin Airlift (1948–49), and the Suez Crisis (1956–57). The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Suez Crisis, in particular, brought the two superpowers closer to a nuclear war than perhaps at any other time in the post-WWII world.
The arms race between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was the most costly military expansion in world history. The cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal alone between 1940 and 1996 was estimated by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)to be around $5.8 trillion (in inflated-adjusted 1996 dollars), which was 31 percent of all defense expenditures during that period ($18.7).
The Cold War was expensive. So costly, in fact, some believed the break-up of the Soviet Union was inevitable. But many experts also dispute attributing the Soviet Union’s demise to the Ronald Reagan-era military buildup. As the graph below shows regarding U.S. and Soviet Union defense spending between 1964 and 1998, Soviet defense spending had been increasing on a consistent basis long before the first Reagan defense budgets.
“The Soviet Union’s defense spending did not rise or fall in response to American military expenditures. Revised estimates by the Central Intelligence Agency indicate that Soviet expenditures on defense remained more or less constant throughout the 1980s. Neither the military buildup under Jimmy Carter and Reagan nor SDI had any real impact on gross spending levels in the USSR. At most SDI shifted the marginal allocation of defense rubles as some funds were allotted for developing countermeasures to ballistic defense.
If American defense spending had bankrupted the Soviet economy, forcing an end to the Cold War, Soviet defense spending should have declined as East-West relations improved. CIA estimates show that it remained relatively constant as a proportion of the Soviet gross national product during the 1980s, including Gorbachev’s first four years in office. Soviet defense spending was not reduced until 1989 and did not decline nearly as rapidly as the overall economy.”
Instead, Lebow and Stein, like many experts in this area, considered the proximal cause of the Soviet Union’s demise to lie in the ill-conceived perestroika reforms initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, coupled with the structural problems inherent in the Soviet economic system. If anything, the Reagan defense budgets delayed the Soviet Union’s demise.
Nonetheless, Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush, did something perhaps more important than bringing down the Soviet Union. They managed the Soviet decline, regardless of its many causes, and ensured that the new world order emerging from the end of the Cold War would be stable and prosperous.
So much could have gone wrong. From the time when the Berlin Wall came down on December 9, 1989 to December 26, 1991, the complex task of disentangling a Gordian knot of Soviet relationships around the world fell into the George H. W. Bush’s lap.
At the time of the Soviet collapse, the country had about 39,000 nuclear weapons and about 1.5 million kilograms of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, according to Stanford engineering professor Siegfried Hecker, who helped the former Soviet Union secure its nuclear arsenal at a time when many feared ‘loose nukes’ would get into the hands of the wrong people.
And the cooperation between U.S. and former Soviet Union scientists and senior military personnel was, itself, built upon a positive relationship Ronald Reagan (and then George H. W. Bush) had built with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other senior Soviet leaders.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush made the world safer, faster than at any other time in U.S. history.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 30, 2018)
If there are any civil libertarians left in the Democratic Party who still believe the state’s propensity towards excessive intrusion into citizens’ lives must be constantly challenged, this essay is addressed to you:
Here is a thought exercise that may shed some light on what the Barack Obama administration should have done during the 2016 presidential election…
Rather than what we know (or think we know) about how the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, what if this had happened instead:
Imagine that in the early Spring of 2016, the FBI became aware of a Hillary Clinton campaign effort to discover compromising information about Donald Trump and his financial interactions with the Russians. In their pursuit of “dirt” on Trump, Clinton campaign operatives came into contact with known Russian intelligence agents. There is even anecdotal evidence that the Russians have kompromat on Hillary Clinton arising from their hacking of her homebrew e-mail server.
What would the FBI do in such a situation? What would Obama’s Department of Justice (DoJ) have done under such a scenario?
Most likely, they would have selectively shared their information with Clinton and perhaps her senior staff about what they knew regarding Russia’s contact with campaign operatives— as their primary concern would be protecting the interests of the U.S. and its electoral system.
Would they have run an FBI intelligence gathering operation using a paid informant against the Clinton campaign.
I seriously doubt it, but according Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, were the FBI to do that, he would hope they would first inform candidate Clinton and take their chances that she wouldn’t divulge the FBI operation to the targeted individuals.
But I disagree to this extent. An administration is treading into some dangerous territory when they conduct any surveillance or intelligence gathering on an opposition party candidate for president.
Had the Clinton campaign’s effort to find ‘dirt’ on Trump led them to some suspicious connections to Russian intelligence operatives, based on the investigation standards I saw applied while working in an intelligence community Office of the Inspector General, I believe the Obama administration would have notified the candidate and her senior staff and discussed future steps should the inappropriate contacts continue.
Why do I believe this?
First, they would have understood the effort to find “dirt” on Trump as defensible, even if potentially reckless. But an objective FBI and DoJ isn’t concerned about the partisan politics of the situation. They are concerned with the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.
As South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy and Florida Senate Marco Rubio, both Republicans, have both recently said about the FBI’s using an informant to collect intelligence from Trump campaign operatives, the FBI is doing its job when it investigates foreign power intrusions into our electoral process.
But not informing candidate Trump, particularly given rumors known to the FBI that the candidate might be subject to blackmail by the Russians, is highly questionable and fails to mitigate a potentially active threat against the U.S.
Second, had it been the Clinton campaign in contact with Russians, the Obama administration would trust the candidate Clinton enough to expect direct answers to questions about interactions with the Russians.
Third, a “secret” investigative operation would take time and the electoral calendar would have driven the investigation’s timeline. The Obama administration would want the investigation resolved before the Democratic Convention in late July, such that, if the candidate’s campaign was truly compromised by Russian intelligence agents, the Democrats would have an opportunity to nominate someone else.
That is a ‘political’ consideration, but not inherently a partisan one. You would hope the Obama administration would have used the same consideration with the Trump campaign.
That is the common sense reaction the Obama administration should have to Russian interference with a presidential campaign, regardless of the party involved.
The FBI, under Obama, initiated a secret intelligence gathering operation on selected Trump campaign advisers — presumably in an effort to understand the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — weeks prior to an official counterintelligence investigation into Russia-Trump collusion.
Even if using an FBI-paid informant against the Trump campaign was justified on national security grounds, Gowdy and Rubio have suggested, it is not appropriate for the FBI to use partisan political factors in deciding how to execute such an intelligence operation.
The news media’s focus on Trump’s supposed ‘lying’ distracts from the real question: Were partisan motives involved?
The major news outlets have decided Trump was “lying” when he tweeted that the FBI was spying on his campaign in July 2016.
Such a charge is utterly dishonest. In fact, the charge is more of a lie than what Trump accused the FBI of doing against his campaign.
Please read the public laws, regulations and executive orders that established our intelligence agencies (The Office of the Director of National Intelligence provides them all in one document available here). You will never see the word “spy” or “spying” as it is simply not a term the U.S. government uses to describe what its intelligence agencies do for the country.
It is understandable why. “Spying” has obvious negative connotations. Subsequently, in writing the laws and regulations authorizing our intelligence agencies, the term ‘intelligence’ became the operative phrase.
The word ‘spy’ has no official, government-sanctioned definition.
Nonetheless, the word ‘spy’ is a colloquial term we’ve all used to describe a wide range of behaviors. For example, I spy on my son all the time to see what games he’s been playing or websites he’s visited on his cellphone.
Hence, Donald Trump’s use of the word “spying” to describe what the FBI did with respect to his campaign is with some merit, even if imprecise.
The news media’s accusations that Trump ‘lied’ about FBI ‘spying’ distracts from the far more important question of whether the FBI was politically motivated when it decided to use a ‘secret informant’ to casually interview Trump campaign advisers about their connections to the Russians.
An independent, inquisitive news media would demand an answer.
And why should they? It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.
Before Obama, another incumbent administration spied on an opposing party’s presidential campaign. In The Wall Street Journal, Lee Edwards shares his experience with how Lyndon Baines Johnson’s administration spied on the Barry Goldwater campaign.
“During the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the FBI to spy on Barry Goldwater’s campaign, according to Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation fellow and director of information for the Goldwater campaign…
…Every poll pointed toward Johnson winning the election against the conservative senator of Arizona, but LBJ wanted to win by a landslide so he could implement his Great Society vision without restraint. He also wanted to go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents, Edwards writes in The Wall Street Journal. So he created an “Anti-Campaign” to smear Goldwater’s candidacy, Edwards claims…
…According to Edwards, the operation was run out of the second floor of the West Wing by veteran Washington-based Democrats like Leonard Marks, who later became the director of the U.S. Information Agency, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary at the Department of Labor and later a U.S. senator for New York. Marks and Moynihan would schedule Democratic speakers before and after Goldwater’s appearance in a city. They knew his travel plans and remarks in advance thanks to a spy the CIA planted at Goldwater headquarters, Edwards claims…
…The “Anti-Campaign” went as far as to enlist the FBI, even though the bureau is supposed to limit its investigations to people and institutions considered dangerous to national security, Edwards writes. The FBI arranged for widespread wiretapping of the Goldwater campaign, according to Edwards, and Johnson also illegally ordered the FBI to conduct security checks of Goldwater’s Senate staff.”
It was unethical then, but why is it OK now?
The Washington Post created a detailed timeline of the relationship between known Trump campaign comments related to “hacked Clinton emails” and the release of the DNC and Podesta hacked emails (Their analysis can be accessed here).
One justification of the Robert Mueller investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians is the documented knowledge that the Trump campaign actively sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
There is no doubt the Trump campaign sought Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 plus deleted emails.
What The Washington Post and the other major media outlets don’t seem to understand is that it is not inherently illegal for a U.S. presidential campaign to seek the “hacked” emails of an opposing campaign, assuming they didn’t conspire, aid and abet, or hide the crime.
In Summer 2016,Trump and campaign adviser Roger Stone were publicly calling for Wikileaks to publish the Clinton-related e-mails hacked in all likelihood by the Russians. That is hardly ‘hiding’ the hacking crime.
Yet, the Obama administration decided the Trump campaign’s knowledge of the supposed whereabouts of Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails was sufficient to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign using a paid, secret informant.
Based on Gowdy, Rubio and Dershowitz’ opinions, perhaps it was sufficient evidence to use a secret informant, but would Obama have initiated a similar intelligence operation against the Clinton campaign?
That is the question that should animate the American news media today, instead of accusing the president of “lying” about spying against his campaign.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 23, 2018)
A number of my readers have complained that I use images or words from The Beatles to drive home my points. Here is a representative example of that criticism:
“How dare you use an image of George Harrison as click-bait for your pro-Trump bulls**t! George and the other Beatles never would have associated themselves that orange-haired a**hole. SHAME ON YOU! YOUR ARE NOT A REAL BEATLE FAN!”
I appreciate the profanity-soaked feedback…but let me respond.
First, for those of you under 40 that don’t know the significance of The Beatles, think of them as the 1960s version of Donald Glover, only there were four of them.
As to those who criticize my use of Beatles imagery, don’t assume you know how any of The Beatles would react to Donald Trump. Only two Beatles are still alive, of course, and neither have been aggressively anti-Trump (though Paul McCartney has written a song about Trump, which I am told is not complimentary).
But Paul has always had a tendency to aim for popular culture’s sweet spot.
I am all for opposing Donald Trump on policy. For example, it would be nice if these rabid anti-Trumpers would carve out some time to protest the growing likelihood that the U.S. is going to war against Iran. Sadly, I don’t think the Democratic Party establishment has any problem with such a reckless and doomed-to-fail military adventure.
But back to The Beatles…
In contrast to Paul’s criticism of Trump, Richard Starkey (aka. Ringo Starr), who has unexpectedly become the good-looking Beatle in his reclining years, has come out in favor of the Brexit vote; and, offers some sage advice on Brexit that is equally applicable to the Resistance in the U.S.
“I think it’s a great move; I think, you know, to be in control of your country is a good move,” Starkey told the BBC. “The people voted and, you know, they have to get on with it. Suddenly, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, we don’t like that vote.’ What do you mean you don’t like that vote? You had the vote, this is what won, let’s get on with it.”
Damn! Ringo just hammered the European Union globalists like he did to his tom-toms on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
As for the deceased Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, it is not so clear to me that they would reflexively support the Resistance.
Lets start with my favorite Beatle, George, who wrote my favorite Beatle song, “While my guitar gently weeps.”
George also wrote the best anti-big government, anti-tax song in the history of popular music: Taxman
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet
Should five percent appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all
George hated high taxes.
At the time he wrote Taxman, the top tax rate in Britain was 83 percent.
The Beatles, in general, had middle-class upbringings and were surprisingly bourgeois in their understanding of the world. When George visited San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the 1967’s Summer of Love, his description of the place when he returned to London was, “It turned out to be just a lot of bums…dropping acid.” Pat Buchanan or Billy Graham could have just easily had that reaction.
Oh, but surely John would be an outspoken Trump critic…right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
One of his most famous songs, Revolution, was actually a song against left-wing revolutions.
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out…
But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?
Revolution’s most poignant line is in its chorus: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” If there is one message John was trying to impart in this song, it was that even when serious problems exist, they are not existential.
In other words, the U.S. and the world will survive Donald Trump. We might even be better for having him.
British journalist, Maurice Hindle, who first interviewed Lennon in 1968, said “Lennon much regretted his earlier associations with the radical left.” The song Revolution was Lennon’s sharp reply to these activists that he viewed as directionless and inherently prone to violence.
Like his fellow Beatles, John had a middle-class upbringing. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, Mimi and George Smith, the latter making his career in the bookmaking business, before gambling away the family’s meager savings. John internalized that experience as he gained his own substantial wealth. And, as John’s financial fortunes grew, political groups began asking him for financial support, to whom he basically replied, ‘F**K OFF.’
John was more than happy to donate a song (e.g., “Give Peace a Chance”), but give money? Don’t forget one of John’s favorite childhood songs was Berry Gordy’s Motown song, Money, which included the lyric: ‘Money don’t get everything, it’s true, but what it don’t get, I can’t use. I need money, that’s what I want.’
And it wasn’t just on the topic of money where John was unapologetic about his bourgeois-esque attitudes.
While appearing on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, Lennon was asked by a female audience member about whether he was concerned about overpopulation. Lennon’s answer surprised her and Cavett: “I don’t really believe it,” Lennon said. “I think whatever happens will balance itself out. It’s alright for us all living to say, ‘Well, there’s enough of us so we won’t have any more.’. I don’t believe in that.”
John would later dismiss the ‘over-population’ problem by noting that as he flew over the U.S. he noticed there was “a lot of room for more people.”
The issue of overpopulation was popular on the Left in 1971. Three years earlier, Stanford biologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich predicted in his book, “The Population Bomb,” that half of Americans would die by the late 1980s due to overpopulation and the resulting famine. (Where do you think Marvel’s idea for The Avengers’ main villain, Thanos, came from?)
Over 40 years removed from Lennon’s critique of Ehrlich’s overpopulation thesis, the intuition of an art school-educated rock star was far more accurate than that of the Stanford biologist.
If you want to draw an analogy to global warming and climate change, I won’t stop you. And I think the evidence supports the hypothesis that John, if he were alive today, would dismiss climate change alarmists as he did the overpopulation alarmists in the 1970s.
And in the end…
One last thought for those who are offended or bored by my frequent reference to The Beatles when writing about contemporary politics.
We all get to interpret their music and lyrics as we wish. I use Beatle music as a background choir to my daily diet of partisan, corporate-driven half-truths being promulgated by the mainstream news media (and I include Fox News in that wretched heap — though, I confess, I am a Bret Baier-fan).
For me, when The Beatles introduce to us the Fool on the Hill who thought the criticswere the actual fools, they are warning about the fine line between arrogance and self-confidence. When John sings about the apolitical Nowhere Man who ‘knows not where he’s going to’ because he’s just like you and me, he’s talking about the importance of humility.
And, most importantly, The Beatles were about challenging authority. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” environmental activist Jack Weinberg once said. [I prefer Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify.”]
As I write this I am watching CNN’s Don Lemon lecture us about what a big liar Donald Trump is, and how anyone that believes the FBI spied on the Trump campaign is being duped.
Perhaps. Don, after all, has all of the Obama administration’s authorities on his side.
One of the risks in challenging authority is that, sometimes, the authorities are right.
This is not that time, however.
If you want to believe the FBI didn’t secretly investigate (i.e., ‘spy on’) the Trump campaign using informants and all of the intelligence collection tools available to them, go right ahead.
But listen to our nation’s former intelligence chief, James Clapper. When asked by The View’s Joy Behar whether the FBI spied on the Trump campaign, Clapper’s response was interesting.
“No, they were not,” Clapper answered. “They were spying on, a term I don’t particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage or influence which is what they do.”
In layman’s terms, the FBI was spying on the Russians by hanging around the Trump campaign. That is what we call a distinction without a difference.
Clapper’s response shows how much the Obama administration crafted their public response for when the “spying” program was revealed (which they knew it would be eventually).
Even if you accept Clapper’s distinction, it doesn’t change the fact that at least one Trump campaign adviser was targeted by a FISC-approved surveillance operation and a FBI counterintelligence operation targeting Trump campaign advisers was opened in late July 2016.
Those facts alone justify this simple question: Did political motivations influence the approvals of these intelligence efforts? And the suggestion by that skeptics of the Obama administration’s story are peddling conspiracy theories, is simply a shaming technique. It doesn’t require a conspiracy to believe the U.S. government lies. Out of convenience or perceived necessity, our government lies…a lot. Such behavior by our government leaders has been ‘normalized.’
It is therefore fair to ask if politics influenced the FBI’s decision to run a counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign. As yet, we have not received from the news media or the government a verifiable answer. A healthy skeptic is not going to just take their word for it. Show us the memos, the e-mails, and the meeting notes that started this operation. How was it funded? Who authorized? Who managed it? Was President Obama briefed? When? Etc. etc.
I don’t believe for a moment that the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ (high marks to the FBI for their naming creativity, by the way) was sparked by a drunken George Papadopoulos spilling his guts to an Australian diplomat in a London bar in May of 2016.
NO F-ing WAY.
When the truth does comes out, we will likely discover our intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ were interested in Donald Trump long before that May 2016 meeting — probably around the time the Fusion GPS contract to collect intelligence on Donald Trump passed from the Washington Free Beaconto a Democratic Party-aligned law firm (with ties to the Clinton campaign). Just an educated guess.
At the same time, I am hardly shill for Trump. For example…
…I would not be surprised if Donald Trump is on a ‘pee pee tape’ and has allowed his business interests to get tied up with some very unsavory types (including, but not restricted to, Russians).
…I believe the Trump campaign made a significant effort to find dirt on Hillary Clinton, including her ‘deleted emails,’ even if that meant meeting with Russians. None of which is necessarily illegal.
…I also believe Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are money-grubbing Beltway Bandit has-beens, proven by their known past to be devoid of integrity, and entirely capable of using their connections to Trump and Russian oligarchs for personal financial gain. They are pit vipers posing as human beings. The last two people a legitimate presidential campaign should bring aboard.
…and I swear, as it became clear on election night that Trump had won, I went onto my deck and could hear the Russians laughing at the stupidity and incompetence of the Obama administration and our two presidential candidates (Куча идиотов!).
Even if we take everything Clapper and other Obama administration officials have said as fact regarding spying on the Trump campaign, they need to account for they still allowed the Russians to not just meddle, but affect the final election outcome. [I have previously published evidence that the Trump campaign’s social media efforts, which had help from the Russians (knowingly or not), had a quantifiable impact on a significant percentage of voters. You can find my research here.]
That is my summary of the 2016 election. And everyone involved, from our two political parties to the partisan news media, is trying to cover their butts.
And, sadly, our journalists are not doing the job protected by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution. It is possible to believe the Russians meddled in the election, Donald Trump was unaware of this meddling, and the Obama administration spied on members of the Trump campaign. All three statement can be true. It would be nice if our journalist corps would press the current and former administrations for the truth.
Instead, today’s journalists are more likely to be telling us what their government handlers want us to hear instead of what we should hear.
Which is why I am always skeptical of corporate media. They’ve already misreported too many things in the Trump-Russia story for us to trust them now [Don’t believe me? You can find a list here].
Yes, the news media gets some things right. For example, I’m confident there is a volcano spewing lava in Hawaii right now.
There are still some good reporters out there, but many of them are trapped under the fetters of corporate media, motivated more by career advancement incentives than a healthy skepticism of ‘official sources.’
We would all be better served if we stopped accepting access journalism driven by anonymous government sources. For when we do, we are probably being played for fools.
We should demand independent, verifiable evidence. We should demand the truth.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald calls these access journalists the ‘stenographers’ for our nation’s political and economic elites. You don’t have to like Greenwald to know he’s right.
But the truth will come out eventually about what really happened in the 2016 election…unless we stop demanding it and just accept Don Lemon’s advice.
And for those of you that have made to the end of this essay, you are rewarded with the 2010 stereo remaster of John Lennon’s political rock masterpiece, “Gimme Some Truth.” Enjoy!
Presumably, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his investigative team will eventually present evidence to the U.S. Congress that will justify such an investigation. Former intelligence chief James Clapper is already priming the pump for the news media narrative that the Obama administration “spying” on the opposition party’s presidential campaign was the “right thing to do.”
Until the real story emerges (if ever), circumstantial evidence, baseless conjecture, and media-fueled hyperbole will be the news media’s primary currency while covering the Trump-Russia investigation.
The following New York Times headline from May 19th regarding the FBI’s interference in the 2016 election says all you need to know about the elite bias of our nation’s most respected newspaper:
That headline is straight-up deceptive, frosted with layers of creamy dishonesty. The definitional nuance between “spying” and “using an informant to investigate” was likely dictated to the New York Times’ writers — Adam Goldman, Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg— by their Department of Justice (DoJ) sources. And then there are the story’s opening paragraphs:
President Trump accused the F.B.I. on Friday, without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign “for political purposes” even before the bureau had any inkling of the “phony Russia hoax.”
In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia
No independent, unbiased journalist writes opening paragraphs as convoluted as those without being told to.
“President Trump accused the F.B.I…without evidence, of sending a spy to secretly infiltrate his 2016 campaign…,” they write. And then in the next sentence(!) they provide the very evidence the president is referring to when he says his campaign was spied on.
If, after more than a year, we haven’t figured out President Trump doesn’t navigate complexity and nuance very well, then we haven’t been paying attention. The man has a working vocabulary of a fourth-grader. That is not an exaggeration. It has been measured…and he speaks at a fourth-grade level.
So, please, forgive President Trump if his interpretation of the F.B.I.’s admitted use of a secret informant to gather information from three campaign advisers comes out as: “They were spying on my campaign!”
The vast majority of Americans would come to the same conclusion if the FBI had done that to them.
In both cases, the “informant” or “spy” does not reveal their purpose (i.e., collecting intelligence) or their client (i.e., the FBI) to their targeted sources. But the distinction the DoJ and its publicity arm, The New York Times, are trying to sell is that “spying” would be if the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign itself; whereas, using an informant to investigate Russian election meddling is entirely different. To quote the late-Richard Pryor, “Only white people can come up with sh*t like that.”
Did George Papadopoulos really get this started?
There is some good reporting and news analysis going on with respect to the Trump-Russia investigation. My top-of-mind list includes The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, the National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy, The Wall Street Journals’ Shane Harris, Carol E. Lee and Kimberley Strassel, Politico’s David Stern, The Federalist’s Sean Davis, and The New York Time’s Michael Schmidt, among others.
All of the reporting agrees that on May 10, 2016, a drunken Papadopoulos boasted to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that the Russians possessed thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton emails. It was this meeting, supposedly, that prompted the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation (‘Crossfire Hurricane’) into the Trump campaign on July 31st, according toThe New York Times.
But the Times’ own reporting leaves open the question as to when the Australians notified their American counterparts about the Papadopoulos drunken confession? The Times presumes Wikileaks’ publishing of the DNC emails in mid-July prompted the Australians to contact the FBI, but there is no concrete evidence offered by the Australians, the FBI, or anyone else that confirms this. All we have is the formal start date of the FBI counterintelligence investigation (July 31st).
Thanks to The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, we know the FBI planted an informant, Stefan Halper, a Cambridge professor with connections to the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6, close to the Trump campaign to investigate Russian election meddling. From Ross’s reporting, we know one of Halper’s earliest contacts with a Trump campaign adviser occurred when Halper met with Carter Page at a London symposium around July 11th.
Was Halper already an FBI informant at that point? If so, the original Papadopoulos-Downer meeting on May 10th was still unknown to the FBI, so how could that meeting have been so pivotal in the FBI’s decision to launch ‘Crossfire Hurricane’? The easiest and most obvious conclusion is that the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting wasn’t pivotal.
Is it possible, however, that the FBI’s interest in the Trump campaign predated even the Papadopoulos-Downer meeting? Consider that the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, had hired Fusion GPS to collect intelligence on Trump in late 2015, and that contract was taken over by a Democratic National Committee-connected law firm in the Spring 2016.
The U.S. intelligence community (USIC), which includes the FBI, and its web of private contractors is surprisingly small and insular, particularly at the highest management levels. It should not surprise us if, in the coming months, we learn that the FBI knew of Fusion GPS’ efforts from the beginning, or at least after the contract was handed off to the Democrats.
After more than a year, what do we really know?
When considering all of the reporting done so far, an open-minded but always skeptical citizen could reasonably come to these conclusions about the Trump-Russia connection:
(1) Russian intelligence operatives targeted the Trump campaign no later than Spring 2016. It was at that time Professor Joseph Mifsud, suspected to have connections to Russian intelligence, told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
As an aside, Mifsud also introduced Papadopoulos to the woman who would become Papadopoulos’ fiancee (see photo below).
Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Russian intelligence may operate the world’s greatest dating service (if you are a single guy, at least).
(2) More likely, Russian intelligence started an intelligence operation against Donald Trump around the time of the Miss Universe Pageant held in Moscow in November 2013. It would be consistent with known Russian intelligence conventions for them to target wealthy American with a known interest at the time in running for president. If they didn’t, I would ashamed of them.
(3) There is nothing in Donald Trump’s known personal code of conduct that rules out the possibility of a ‘pee-pee tape’ from his November 2013 trip to Moscow. I’d bet my left arm there is one. There is also no reason to believe Trump’s supporters (and potential supporters) would abandon him if such a tape were to surface.
(4) The Russians pursued an aggressive, multi-faceted campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And their efforts were focused on two outcomes: (a) creating division within the American electorate (like both U.S. political parties aren’t doing that already!) and (b) helping to get Trump elected.
(5) Trump campaign operatives, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and, of course, George Papadopoulos, had verifiable connections to wealthy and politically-connected Russians. The Trump campaign was also decidedly aggressive in trying to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
None of that behavior is necessarily illegal, but these behaviors obviously opened each of them up to intelligence collection and manipulation by Russian intelligence. Were any of these Trump campaign operatives working “for” Russian intelligence? Highly unlikely (though Carter Page still seems a little odd to me).
(6) And, finally, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. And did the Russian meddling make a difference? I encourage to read my quantitative analysis on that question, where I do find evidence that the Trump campaign’s digital efforts (which included work by Cambridge Analytica) were an important factor in solidifying Trump’s voter base, particularly voters that would have otherwise considered voting for Hillary Clinton.
So, that is what we know. What will happen next?
It will soon be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel
Media reports are emerging that Roger Stone is now the focus of the Mueller probe, at least until a Trump interview is arranged.
Stone’s uncanny ability to predict the release of the Wikileaks-published Podesta emails and his tendency to promote his important political contacts (e.g., Guccifer 2.0, Julian Assange, etc.) makes him hard to ignore, if you are Robert Mueller.
The truth about Stone and his contact with Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, however, is not quite as damning as Trump’s opponents would prefer; or, at least, that was my takeaway after reading The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand’s comprehensive rundown of Stone’s Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 communications. Stone is a blowhard and serial exaggerator and it is hard to believe anything he says.
As a political science graduate student in the late 1980s, one of my first research projects was documenting the rise of a new generation of political consultants, many of whom were associated with the Ronald Reagan presidential campaigns of 1980 and 1984. Perhaps the most infamous was the firm, BMSK & Associates, started in 1980 by Charles Black, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone (and later joined by Peter Kelly and a young pit viper from South Carolina named Lee Atwater).
[Side note: Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, was the real strategic genius in the Reagan campaigns]
Black, Manafort and Stone were infamous to political consultant-wannabes like myself because they were so ruthless and unconnected to common rules of decency…and they didn’t hide it. They helped their political clients win through raw intimidation. Sound familiar?
The firm established their dark side reputation early in their history by representing notoriously brutal dictators such as Mohamed Siad Barre (Somalia), Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines), Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire) and Jonas Savimbi (Angola).
British journalist Richard Dowden wrote of Mobutu Sese Seko’s reign in Zaire: “The CIA helped bring Mobutu Sese Seko to power to stop the pro-Moscow Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Protected physically by Israeli security guards and financially by Washington, Mobutu turned the country into his personal fiefdom, treating the national treasury as his own bank account.”
But Angola’s Jonas Savimbi was even more cringe-worthy. During the Reagan administration, Savimbi’s UNITA movement was fighting to overthrow the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which was supported by the Soviet Union (with manpower assistance from Cuba). But even ardent Communism fighters in Reagan’s State Department, like the Secretary of State, George Schultz, found Savimbi’s methods for maintaining discipline in his ranks to be unacceptable. Along with executions, torture and the disappearance of any internal rivals, Savimbi also tolerated public witch burnings.
Just an example of the types of clients BMSK & Associates specialized in serving.
It is hardly a coincidence that Roger Stone and Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign when they had a chance. These were two old war horses, no longer considered relevant by a political consulting community that generally likes to discard its elders when young mavericks touting the newest campaign methods are available. Political campaigns are a young person’s game and Stone and Manafort were no longer relevant in 2016…until Donald Trump, having won a series of early primaries for the Republican nomination, needed a credible campaign organization as fast as possible.
So entered two of the oiliest, money-hawking bastards to every run a major presidential campaign.
Documenting that period in the Trump campaign, filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme released their documentary about Roger Stone, Get Me Roger Stone, to rave reviews for their unfiltered portrait of how Stone’s brand of dirty tricks defined the Trump campaign’s attitude.
As critical as I have been about the mainstream media’s frequently dishonest reporting of the Trump-Russia collusion story, there is no doubt Roger Stone and Paul Manafort are capable of such chicanery. But when one of the Get Me Roger Stone co-directors was recently asked on CNN if he believed Stone could have engineered the Trump-Russian collusion effort, he said, “Roger doesn’t have those kind of contacts in Russia.”
It is much more likely Stone was grasping for relevance in the 2016 election, using any connection he could conjure up to make him look important (and raise some cash).
How will this all end?
Regardless of the Mueller investigation’s final outcome, serious damage has been done to the American political system. This country will not be the same and neither political party and its staunchest partisans will emerge unscathed, to say nothing of the damage the news media has done to itself.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to pass President Trump’s request for an investigation to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General is just a polite way of Rosenstein telling the president to stick his request up his ass.
Inspector General offices are the B-teams of criminal investigations within the federal government. Conservative radio’s Mark Levin is right when he calls for a special counsel to investigate the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. Unless that happens, nothing significant will happen.
Who ultimately will lose when Mueller wraps up his final report?
(1) Donald Trump is the obvious loser. Independent of whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, his presidency is permanently handicapped by the constant drone of a hostile media and D.C. political class (the “swamp” if you prefer) that will never accept him as president. Mueller will have done his duty to Democratic partisans if he can extend his investigation through the 2018 midterms.
However, unless Mueller can offer up a video of Trump taking orders from his Russian handlers, there is nothing that is likely to come from the Mueller investigation that will force Trump to resign or be removed from office.
(2) The news media is the next big loser. When Trump fades away (and he will), the news media will have lost their money tree and will, instead, be left with a public image so tarnished by their collective dishonesty that even Manhattan’s corporate liberals won’t have any patience left for Rachel Maddow’s meandering monologues to nowhere.
If you still live under the fiction that the news media is doing a good job covering the Trump administration, just read journalist Glenn Greenwald’s incomplete list of instances when the U.S. press corps screwed up in their coverage of Donald Trump in 2017 (you can find his list here.)
When I think of the American press’ love for its war on Trump, I am reminded of Lt. Col. George Custer’s famous quote about war:
“You ask me if I will not be glad when the last battle is fought, so far as the country is concerned I, of course, must wish for peace, and will be glad when the war is ended, but if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end.” —Lt. Col. George Custer
(3) The third big loser is the Republican Party’s establishment, led by Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and the Bush family, who will all be culpable for their arrogant exploitation of their electoral base, working-class and evangelical Americans. For forty years, the Republicans ginned up religious, nationalist and ethnic fears in order to keep their base loyal; while, at the same time, pursued social, economic and military policies that ignored their interests. If you want to explain Donald Trump’s appeal, you start there.
(4) Finally, Barack Obama, and the corporatist Democrats that created him, will not be treated kindly by historians. History doesn’t reward whiners.
Barack Obama’s presidential legacy is in ashes; and, even if the Democrats take back control of the government in the next two and a half years (and I think they will), corporatist Democrats offer nothing substantive to think we are on the brink of a new, permanent Democratic majority. if you think Republican obstructionism was bad during the Obama years, wait and see what they’ll be like during the Kamala Harris administration.
I tire of Obama apologists bemoaning how little the Republicans worked with him during his eight years in office. Obama’s inability to work across the aisle was his failing, not the Republicans. If the U.S. had a parliamentarian system like the British, Obama would have been justifiably removed from office right after the midterm elections in 2010.
Hopefully, future presidents will reject the hubris of Obama’s famous brush-off of congressional Republicans when he told them soon after his 2008 victory that “elections have consequences.”
Yes, they do Mr. Obama. And everyone of those Republicans you insulted were elected too.
Will there be any good outcomes?
Hopefully, at least good outcome will arise from the Trump presidency. After four consecutive failed presidencies (Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama and Trump), it is time for Congress take back power usurped by the ever-creeping executive branch.
The days are hopefully over when a president can send Americans to war without congressional approval, enter international treaties without Senate approval, or re-write immigration policy on the whim of a presidential executive order.
Moreover, whether we call it the ‘deep state,’ ‘the permanent government,’ or just the mundane ‘federal bureaucracy,’ the unelected members of our executive branch have become too powerful and unaccountable. Our Founders established a democratic republic, but our democracy has evolved into a bureaucracy in service of oligarchs.
If, as a result of Trump’s time in office, the U.S. presidency were to once again be rendered a co-equal branch of government, a little Russian election meddling in 2016 was a small price to pay.
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A delusive debate has erupted in Washington, D.C., driven mostly by narrow partisan agendas, with little attention to the real issues involved. In the process, the Trump administration has put congressional Democrats in the position of defending government secrecy and privilege at the expense of the public’s right to know how its government operates.
This newest partisan conflict concerns a proposed policy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will change how the agency assesses and uses scientific research during the regulatory and rule-making process.
Pruitt’s policy proposal would change a long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to depend on non-public scientific data in developing environmental rules and regulations.
“We need to make sure their data and methodology are published as part of the record,” Pruitt said to The Daily Caller. “Otherwise, it’s not transparent. It’s not objectively measured, and that’s important.” According to Pruitt, ‘scientific secrecy’ increases the likelihood of bad science— and even fraud — influencing public policy.
Pruitt will reverse long-standing EPA policy allowing regulators to rely on non-public scientific data in crafting rules.
The response from Democrats and environmental advocates was swift. In their view, this policy is designed to restrict the scientific research available to the agency when it writes environmental regulations and, in cases where a study’s data are made available to the public, risks violating confidentiality agreements signed by the study’s participants.
Moreover, such transparency will give critics of EPA regulations, particularly those pertaining to the fossil fuels industry, an increased opportunity to undermine the credibility of the science underwriting those regulations.
Recalling industry resistance to the Six Cities Study (published in 1993) on the health impact of air pollution, Sean Gallagher, a government relations officer with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said Pruitt’s new transparency policy would have prevented research like the Six Cities Study to influence environmental policy.
“They (the fossil fuels industry) didn’t like the regulation, so they tried to attack the science underlying the regulation,” Mr. Gallagher told the New York Times. “It has become very clear to us that this is not about science. This is a means to an end.”
According to Pruitt’s critics, this transparency policy would have a significant impact on environmental regulations premised on research linking pollution and other toxic hazards to individual health outcomes. Without human exposure data, many EPA regulations would never exist.
Hence, the strong belief among congressional Democrats that this is exactly the outcome Pruitt and the Trump administration want.
“Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, took yet another step to muzzle the scientific inquiry that for years has informed sound policy at an agency he seems determined to destroy. He told his subordinates that they could no longer make policy on the basis of studies that included data from participants who were guaranteed confidentiality.”
So who is right? Is the Pruitt transparency proposal an attempt to increase the government’s accountability to the people? Or a cynical use of privacy rights to prevent significant public health research influencing environmental policy?
In essence, this current dispute is a battle between two equally democratic virtues: government transparency versus individualprivacy rights.
With respect to EPA regulations, Pruitt’s critics assume privacy is sacrificed by increased transparency. Pruitt and the Trump administration, in contrast, believe one doesn’t compromise the other.
In this debate, Pruitt and the Trump administration are more right than their critics. Increased scientific transparency through the public release of scientific data does not have to jeopardize study participants’ privacy and, therefore, should not impact the availability of scientific data in the development of environmental policy.
I worked for five years (2002–2007) in the Defense Manpower Data Center, the U.S. Department of Defense unit responsible for implementing the release of public use datasets derived from opinion surveys of U.S. military personnel.
Our research office conducted surveys of military personnel on topics ranging from a person’s financial situation, health status, mental health issues, sexual assault and attitudes about their military service. These were highly sensitive topics and privacy was paramount in the successful collection and analysis of this type of information.
Internally, data from our surveys informed personnel policy decisions ranging from sexual assault to the DoD’s Tricare health care system. But we also had researchers external to the government using our data for evaluating the status of our nation’s civilian and military defense personnel.
In that effort, our office implemented de-identification methods on the survey data that protected the privacy of survey respondents but also allowed academic and defense policy ‘think tanks’ to access DoD survey data.
It is unlikely that the datasets informing environmental policy are more sensitive than those informing defense personnel policy.
Transparency was not compromised by privacy considerations within DoD survey research because it was never considered a zero-sum game. Both democratic virtues of transparency and privacy existed together without ever one diminishing the other.
How is that possible?
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a measurement standards laboratory, and a non-regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce whose mission is to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness.
The Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) of 2014 establishes NIST as responsible for developing information security standards and guidelines for federal information systems, including establishing rules and procedures for protecting Privacy Act of 1974 information.
In Dec. 2016, NIST released draft guidelines on how government agencies can prepare datasets for public release once those agencies de-identify individuals within the datasets without compromising their scientific value while also protecting individuals’ private information.
According to NIST, “De-identification is not a single technique, but a collection of approaches, algorithms, and tools that can be applied to different kinds of data with differing levels of effectiveness. In general, the potential risk to privacy posed by a dataset’s release decreases as more aggressive de-identification techniques are employed, but data quality decreases as well.”
Once identifying information is removed from a government dataset, the government has a number of methods by which it can release the dataset to the public. These include:
● The Release and Forget model: The de-identified data is released to the public directly without any access restrictions.
● The Data Use Agreement (DUA) model: The de-identified data is made available only to qualified users under a legally binding data use agreement that details how the data can be used.
● The Synthetic Data with Verification Model: A synthetic dataset is created that maintains the statistical properties of the original dataset, but which does not contain private information.
● The Enclave model: The de-identified data is maintained in a segregated enclave that restricts access to the original data, and only accepts queries from pre-qualified researchers.
There is no privacy-based excuse for federal agencies to restrict the use of individual-based scientific data in the development of public policy.
Under the Obama administration, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed Federal agencies in 2013 to develop plans to provide for increased public access to digital scientific data. Under its guidelines, Federal agencies were charged with releasing data in a form that permits future analysis but does not threaten individual privacy.
Pruitt’s proposal for new transparency rules within EPA are entirely consistent with the OSTP directives. Does that mean Pruitt and the Trump administration won’t use this new requirement to de-legitimize research data that may contradict their political agenda? Of course that is a possibility. Pruitt’s transparency proposal may be no more than a Trojan horse designed to undermine existing and future environmental regulations.
But the challenge facing environmental scientists under Pruitt’s transparency proposal is not how to avoid public disclosure of their research data, but how to defend their findings in the political arena.
Pruitt’s transparency proposal is entirely consistent with this nation’s democratic ideals.
So, why the resistance from Democrats and environmental activists to Pruitt’s proposal?
The answer is politics. Period.
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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, April 28, 2018)
No serious person can deny that global temperatures are warming (see chart below) and mankind is a major cause of this geologically recent trend.
Nonetheless, a real scientific debate continues in the climate science community regarding exactly how fast the globe is warming and exactly what is humankind’s contribution to that warming relative to natural variation. And with respect to the higher order impacts of global warming, such as rising sea levels, heat waves and tropical storm intensities, there is even more uncertainty, though most climate scientists agree sea levels will rise, heat waves will be more frequent, and tropical storms will be more intense, on average.
On one side of the debate is the vast majority of climate scientists who argue we will see global temperatures increase by at least 3.0°C over pre-industrial levels by 2100 with catastrophic results to the environment. I refer to them as climate alarmists as the term conveys the urgency they feel about the importance of converting the world economy to renewable energy sources as soon as possible.
On the other side of the argument is a small group of scientists that believe the forecast models are wrong and over-estimate the rate at which the earth is warming and under-estimate the role natural variation plays in the current warming trend. The obvious term for them may be ‘climate non-alarmists’ but I call them climate realists. They don’t deny the science, even as they question the panic mode endorsed by the climate alarmists.
Climate realists refuse to go away to the consternation of many in the climate science community. The reason revolves around the term: equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS). And if a recent climate study published in the Journal of Climate is an indication, its actual value is still uncertain.
The ECS estimate is a summary of the eventual warming of the planet’s surface from a doubling of CO2 once the world’s climate system has adjusted to the higher levels of CO2. Estimates of the ECS are important because they drive conclusions on whether the globe will experience catastrophic temperature increases by the end of the 21st century. If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is correct, global temperatures will be 3.1°C higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100.
Dr. Judith Curry, a climate scientist and former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Nicholas Lewis, a retired financier with a background in mathematics and physics, report in their study an ECS estimate of 1.66°C (5–95% uncertainty range: 1.15–2.7°C).
Why does their model not run as hot as IPCC global temperature models? They say for two reasons: their model (1) takes into account historical atmospheric and ocean temperature trends since the mid-19th century, and (2) draws on new findings since 1990 of how atmospheric ozone and aerosols are likely to affect global temperature trends.
Their critics, of which there are many, cite other reasons for their ‘less warm’ temperature forecasts.
Climate scientist Steven Sherwood, commenting on an earlier study by Lewis using a similar methodology to the Lewis and Curry 2018 paper, claims Lewis cherry-picks evidence and methodologies that “point toward lower sensitivity while ignoring all the evidence pointing to higher sensitivity.”
Dr. Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA, has found in his research that studies based on observed warming (such as the recent low climate sensitivity study Lewis and Curry) have underestimated the sensitivity because they did not account for the greater response to aerosol forcing.In other words, Lewis and Curry’s temperature model is too simplified to make reliable forecasts.
There is another reason to be cautious of Lewis and Curry’s 2018 research finding of lower climate sensitivity to CO2.
“It’s particularly important not to fall victim to single study syndrome for this type of study,” contends Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist at a private environmental consulting firm in the Sacramento, California area. “It can be tempting to treat a new study as the be-all and end-all last word on a subject, but that’s generally not how science works. Each paper is incorporated into the body of scientific literature and given due weight.”
Climate alarmists on a principled level believe the relationship between science and public policy demands greater weight be placed upon the research estimating higher levels of climate sensitivity.
“The policy should be about avoiding risk,” Meinshausen told The Guardian in 2014. “If we shift policies to a more relaxed approach and then find the higher estimates are more likely, then we have locked ourselves into a pathway of high fossil fuel use and eliminated our chance of staying below two degrees of global warming. We want a good chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change — not one that’s like guessing the toss of a coin.”
But Meinshausen’s viewpoint begs the larger question, why should scientists care about the risks of global warming to human beings? The earth doesn’t care if humans can live comfortably on it. The laws of nature didn’t require congressional approval or a social consensus before they took effect. So why do climate scientists need to consider “risks to humans” when talking about their models of the planet’s climate system? A scientist’s first task is to get the science right. To consider the human risks as they build the science is to introduce systematic bias into the process. Using science to justify dramatic public policy measures to counteract global warming brings it own set of risks:
Is it possible we could spend trillions, cause tremendous disruptions in the global economy, and still not impact the current global warming trend? (Curry says, “Yes.”)
Is it possible mankind’s current rapid conversion to renewable energy has already put us on a path to successfully mitigate and adjust to the higher order impacts of global warming? (That is an argument I summarize here)
The mainstream media’s oft-repeated exaggeration that the climate science is settled only hardens the partisan divide between the scientific community and defenders of the fossil fuel economy. And, besides, when is science ever settled? Einstein is still defending his theories of general relativity and special relativity.
Though a critic of Lewis and Curry’s research, one climate scientist acknowledges the climate science, particularly with respect to climate sensitivity measures, is not settled. “Climate sensitivity remains an uncertain quantity,” according to Professor Piers Forster of the University of Leeds, who published a study with Jonathan Gregory of the University of Reading in 2006 that gave an ECS estimate of 1.6°C for a doubling of CO2.
Morevoer, if Lewis and Curry’s ECS estimates were the lone outlier, their research would be easier to dismiss. But their estimates don’t stand alone. In the July 2017 issue of Nature Climate Change, climatologists Thorsten Mauritsen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and Robert Pincus of the University of Colorado reported an ECS of 1.5°C (0.9–3.6°C, 5th–95th percentile).
As seen in the chart below, most recent model estimates of the ECS are around 3.0°C, twice that of Curry and Lewis (2018), Mauritsen and Pincus (2017), and Lindzen and Choi (2011). There is real variation in this chart that simply cannot be dismissed as the sole product of the global warming deniers.
At this juncture, the safer bet may be to assume the ECS estimates around 3.0°C are more accurate. However, scientific insurgencies must start somewhere and it is becoming increasingly untenable for climate change alarmists to ignore research suggesting the planet may not be warming as fast as once assumed.
In addition, the global warming hiatus between 1998 and 2015 remains at the center of the debate regarding the relative contribution of man-made sources of greenhouse gases and natural variation. If man is responsible for 100 percent of the global warming since 1950, as suggested by NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, how do we explain the pause without reference to natural variation? And can we assume natural variation cancels itself out over the long-run, as suggested by climate alarmists, leaving only anthropogenic factors as the cause of current global warming?
“Numerous recent research papers have highlighted the importance of natural variability associated with circulations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which is now believed to be the dominant cause of the (warming) hiatus,” Curry told the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in 2015. “If the recent warming hiatus is caused by natural variability, then this raises the question as to what extent the warming between 1975 and 1998 can also be explained by natural climate variability.”
“Climate models do not simulate correctly the ocean heat transport and its variations,” said Curry.
In contrast to Meinshausen’s belief that government’s should err on the side of caution and promote dramatic measures to combat global warming, Curry takes a different approach:
“We should expand the frameworks for thinking about climate policy and provide policy makers with a wider choice of options in addressing the risks from climate change,” said Curry. “Pragmatic solutions based on efforts to accelerate energy innovation, build resilience to extreme weather, and pursue no regrets pollution reduction measures have justifications independent of their benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation.”
Lewis and Curry are not deniers of anthropogenic global warming. By including them in the three percent category of global warming deniers, the mainstream of the climate science community is doing their discipline a disservice.
While Lewis and Curry have undoubtedly accepted research monies from wealthy interests that do deny the realities of global warming, their climate research is credible enough to be published in peer-reviewed journals and wholly consistent with the consensus that humans have impacted the global climate through the production of greenhouse gases. Their heresy is that they believe the pace of this warming and the relative contribution of humans versus natural causes remain open questions.
As Curry told a previous U.S House committee on climate science in 2015:
“ I am increasingly concerned that both the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified. My research on understanding the dynamics of uncertainty at the climate science-policy interface has led me to question whether these dynamics are operating in a manner that is healthy for either the science or the policy process.”
Bill Ritter, Jr., a professor at Colorado State University and director of the Center for the New Energy Economy, recently suggested the controversies in the climate science are increasingly becoming irrelevant as market forces have moved decisively towards converting the U.S. to a clean energy economy.
“Today, renewable energy resources like wind and solar power are so affordable that they’re driving coal production and coal-fired generation out of business. Lower-cost natural gas is helping, too,” writes Ritter. “And, despite the Trump administration’s support of coal, a recent survey of industry leaders shows that utilities are not changing their plans significantly.”
Climate alarmists can be largely thanked for the positive trends in renewable energy.
Assuming utilities continue in their efforts to convert from fossil fuels to renewables, climate scientists should find it easier to free themselves from the partisan squabbles that presently loom over their research and, instead, return to what Thomas Kuhn called “normal science,” where the regular work of scientists is in theorizing, observing, and experimenting within a settled paradigm or explanatory framework.
The fact that research by climate realists such as Lewis and Curry is now regularly appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals is evidence that “normal science” is returning to the climate science community.
The better news is, in twenty or thirty years, we will know who got the climate science right and who didn’t. That’s how science should work.
About the author: Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY). He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, April 22, 2018)
Cartoonist Charles Schultz was a subversive. Lucy Van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second was his metaphor for the insincerity and duplicity of the power elites.
Lucy was the power establishment. Charlie Brown was the rest of us.
Progressives today may not want to be associated with Charlie Brown (he seemed to lose a lot), but there is no shame in that comparison. Charlie Brown was honest, trusting, and pure of heart. There is no dishonor there.
As our mainstream media teed-up another superfluous non-issue to relentlessly grind on (this time it was Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen), a progressive leader had the gall to suggest her party’s pursuit of the current president should not blind them to a real issue: Americans’ civil rights.
Nina Turner, president of ‘Our Revolution’, a progressive advocacy organization started by Bernie Sanders’ former presidential campaign staff, was on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper when she weighed in on the FBI’s raids on the offices of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen:
“Throughout the history of this country, especially when it comes to African-American folks — Black Panthers, Dr. King, Malcolm X and other civil rights freedom fighters— you can see that sometimes the government can go too far in its efforts. Now that is not to say the Cohen incident is parallel to that, but as American citizens we should have some concern for how this goes, even if it is against someone we don’t like. This is about how we act as a government.”
Turner understands that the ‘means’ do not necessarily justify the ‘ends.’ Furthermore, she made clear that the FBI’s Cohen raids were not necessarily an abuse of power, but simply that Americans should be vigilant in ensuring the government doesn’t violate the rights of its citizens, even those citizens we don’t otherwise ‘like.’
Predictably, on cue, establishment Democrats lashed out at Turner:
What will it take for Democratic Party progressives to realize they are no longer welcome in their own party?
Since 1992, there have been two political parties in this country: the traditional Republican Party, led (for now) by Trump, and the Pro-Choice Republican Party, otherwise known as establishment Democrats, led by Obama administration holdovers, such as Tom Perez, and the smoldering embers of what is left from the Clinton political machine.
Since Bill Clinton took control of the Democratic Party in 1992, our nation has effectively lived under one-party rule, where the two nominal parties wage electoral battles on social and culture war issues, distracting voters from the real economic issues that most impact people’s lives.
And Donald Trump is the Frankenstein monster this one-party-system has created. It’s a system that ignores the economic realities of working-class and middle-class Americans. It’s a system that allows income disparities on a scale not seen since the robber baron era in the late 19th-century. It’s a system that pretends the covert drone wars perpetuated and refined by the Obama administration are antiseptic enough to keep our political leaders’ hands clean while they proceed to destabilize Muslim-majority countries not sufficiently suppliant to American interests.
And now the establishment Democrats demand discipline from the progressive wing of their party in order to slay a creation of their own making — Donald J. Trump.
Progressives, don’t fall for the con. Donald Trump came to power on their watch, not yours.
In their heart, progressives know Democratic Party leaders no longer welcome them and every day progressives try to bring their concerns and ideas to the attention of the party elites, is a day they’ve lost turning those concerns and ideas into actual public policy.
It’s a political system where bank executives and fund managers are allowed to sponge billions of dollars from average Americans through fraudulent underwriting practices and deceptive risk pricing (among other causes of the 2007–2008 financial crisis) and not ONE goes to jail. Eight years of the Obama administration and no banker goes to jail for their naked theft of billions of dollars?!
Establishment Democrats are in no position to lecture progressives about the dangers of the Trump administration.
Not when Democrats controlled both congressional chambers for first two years of the Obama administration and fulfilled his campaign promise of affordable, universal health care by passing a Republican-designed health care plan, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Did progressives ever ask Obama, if you are going to pass a health care law without the support of Republicans, why not bite the whole enchilada and pass a true universal health care plan?
Bernie Sanders and Michael Moore did. Who else?
Many progressives still don’t want to hear this fact: Obama and the establishment Democrats’ health care, Big Pharma and insurance industry donors were never going to allow substantive health care reform. It was all a con, sold to progressives by an intelligent and charming community organizer from Chicago.
This is not cynicism. This is how government works in a one-party-system. False choices. Pre-determined outcomes.
And, now, those same establishment Democrats are demanding progressives get in line and take down Trump and the Republicans. When progressives suggest the media’s obsession with the Trump presidency, particularly the Trump-Russia collusion story, is a distraction from genuine issues, the establishment Democrats quickly stomp the thought out through shaming and rich-splaining.
Never mind that the policy constants of the past thirty years supported by these same Democrats, globalist economics (deregulation and open markets) and neocon regime change wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria), have left this country with dangerous amounts of public debt, increased income inequality, and seemingly irreconcilable social divisions.
These policies laid the groundwork for the populist uprising in the Republican Party and is directly responsible for the rise of Donald Trump.
It takes real balls for the establishment Democrats to then turn around and blame progressives for the election of Trump.
One Step Back to Take two Steps Forward
There comes a time when it takes one step backwards before you can take two steps forward.
This is that time for the progressives.
Two intersecting forces make NOW the time for the progressives to show their strength.
The first force is the impending implosion of the Republican Party under Trump’s incompetent leadership. Not even Nikki Haley will save the party by the time the 2020 election comes around. The Republicans are a dead-party-walking.
The second force is the overwhelming expectation that the Democrats will regain control of the U.S House in 2018. Perhaps even the U.S. Senate is in play.
Progressives must understand this simple reality: Establishment Democrats are Republicans. They have seduced progressives with their socially liberal inclinations, though progressives should have had a clue at their insincerity when it took Hillary Clinton until 2015 to publicly declare her support for marriage equality. You may have been with her, but she was never really with you.
The humble truth is, when establishment Democrats win, the Republicans win.
The progressives must therefore focus on taking back their own party from establishment Democrats before taking on the Republicans. The progressives have no chance of rolling back Republican policies until the establishment Democrats are shown the door and gifted back to the Republican Party where they belong.
Let the Republicans have Bill and Hillary Clinton. Trust me, the Democratic Party won’t miss them.
For now, run as independents
So, for those progressives that recognize the establishment Democrats’ big con, what next?
Where progressive Democrats have already won the party nomination. the task is straight forward: Get them elected.
In many states, it is already too late to put up progressives Democrats in the primaries. The only option now is to run progressives as independent party candidates in the general election.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters have built the grassroots fundraising and electioneering infrastructure necessary to organize a nationwide candidate filing program for the general election.
However, independent and minor party filing deadlines for the general election are rapidly approaching. Here are just a few coming up in the next few weeks:
The chances are still good that the Democrats will win control of at least the U.S. House this November.
The prediction market PredictIt.com gives the Democrats a 69 percent chance of gaining control of the U.S. House. And while the same market gives the Democrats only a 38 percent chance of controlling the U.S. Senate, those are odds the Democrats only a year ago would have made them giddy with optimism.
My own midterm election models (which you can access here) indicate, under current conditions, the Republicans will lose 37 House seats and 4 Senate seats, putting both chambers under the control of the Democrats.
The smart money remains solidly in the Democratic Party’s corner for the 2018 midterms.
Yet, with the 2016 presidential election as a vivid reminder, Democrats know there is no such thing as a ‘sure thing’ in American politics. Despite a year and a half media obsession over the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, on November 7th, the Democrats could still find themselves in the minority in both congressional chambers.
Here is why that is still a real possibility…
The Mueller investigation may not end with a definitive conclusion
For 18 months the Trump-Russia collusion story has dominated the national news media. According to the Tyndall Report, among the Top 20 news stories of 2017, Russia-related stories accounted for 31 percent of the coverage by the three broadcast news networks. The ratio for the cable news networks undoubtedly would be even higher.
Yet, after all this hostile coverage of the Trump presidency, Democrats need to prepare themselves for this real possibility: The Robert Mueller-led investigation probably will not indict Donald Trump.
“Mueller will not indict Trump for obstruction of justice or for any other crime. Period. Full stop. End of story. Speculations to the contrary are just fantasy,” wrote Paul Rosenzweig in The Atlantic last January. “Mueller will not indict the president, even for money laundering. The resolution of the current American crisis is going to be political, not criminal. The future lies with Congress and, ultimately, the electorate, not with prosecutors and the courts.”
Rosenzweig isn’t coming out of nowhere with that conclusion. Twenty years ago he served as a Senior Counsel in the investigation of President Clinton. What is his rationale? “The Department of Justice has a long-standing legal opinion that sitting presidents may not be indicted,” writes Rosenzweig. “First issued in 1973 during the Nixon era, the policy was reaffirmed in 2000, during the Clinton era.”
And what can we expect from the Mueller probe with respect to President Trump? According to Rosenzweig, he will file a report on his findings with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein (since the Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself).
We are going to get a report. And based on what has been revealed so far, the chances of the Mueller probe proving Trump (or anyone in his orbit) colluded with the Russians to impact the 2016 election is less than certain.
Such an ambiguous outcome might further energize #TheResistance’s resolve to put the Democrats in charge of Congress. But it also has the potential to torpedo the movement’s organizing assumption that Trump is not just a misogynistic buffoon, but a traitor. The reality that Trump is not a Russian tool will be deflating for many of his critics.
Americans may come to the defense of an embattled president
Democrats should be concerned about another potential outcome of the Mueller probe. The American public may not just grow weary of the Trump-Russia collusion story, a significant percentage may rally around the president, particularly if the economy remains strong and real progress towards peace is achieved on the Korean peninsula.
There is an historical precedent for this phenomenon. Kenneth Starr’s probe into an array of controversies surrounding President Bill Clinton, including his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, resulted in the House impeaching the president on Dec. 19, 1998. Interestingly, as evidenced in the graph below, Clinton’s Gallup job approval ratings rose consistently until the House impeachment. And though his ratings did dip during the Senate trial (in which Clinton was not convicted), they never dropped below 50 percent.
Of course, how Americans react to Trump’s impending impeachment (assuming the Democrats take the House back) may be very different from the Clinton experience.
According to the April 2018 Quinnipiac poll, 52 percent of Americans believe Robert Mueller is conducting a “fair” investigation. While still a majority, this is the lowest level of support the Mueller probe has received from the American public.
Is this evidence of “Mueller probe fatigue”? Perhaps. At a minimum, the Democrats would be well advised to track the public’s mood with respect to the Mueller probe, particularly among independents and Democratic-leaning voters. Should either segment show growing signs of ‘Mueller fatigue,’ the Democrats will have a problem in November.
The economy shows no signs of slowing down
The economy is not working in the Democrats’ favor either. It shows no signs of slowing down, even with trade wars lurking about. Whether the credit belongs chiefly with Barack Obama or with Trump is anyone’s guess. What does matter is to whom the American people give the credit and the most recent evidence, from an April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, is that a plurality of Democrats (!) now believe Trump — not Barack Obama — is responsible for the current strength of the country’s economy. As of April 9, 46 percent of Democrats agreed that Trump is more responsible for the United States economy’s current strength is due to Trump.
According to the New York Fed’s yield curve model, there is an 11 percent probability of a recession in the United States in the next twelve months (please check out this model’s accuracy here).
The Democrats are not likely to get any help from a souring economy when election day rolls around and they will face an opposition party that will try to make the election all about the economy.
If I were a betting man (and I am), I would say the economy is not going to help the Democrats in November, not that they need it to since midterm election results are not a simple function of the economy. Nonetheless, the Democrats’ chances of taking back Congress would be better if the economy wasn’t humming along as it is.
A formal peace on the Korean peninsula will prove deadly to the Democrats
The impending meeting of Trump and Kim Jong Un is the ultimate wild card before the midterm elections. It is easy to make glorious predictions (positive or negative) about any tangible outcomes coming from this meeting, but there is simply no way to know.
History suggests the chances are near zero that concrete steps towards a real peace agreement will arise from this first meeting. Nonetheless, just the novelty of it and the positive coverage likely to surround it works in the Republicans’ favor. Short of a physical brawl breaking out between Trump and Kim Jong Un, it very probable that Trump’s image will benefit substantially. And, frankly, a fist-fight might lift his image as well with a lot of Americans.
The Blue Wave may crest too soon
It is also possible that the “Blue Wave” may crest too soon. There is only so much energy that can be sustained by a political movement. Even true believers can get to a point where they just want to say “screw this, lets go see a movie.”
There are already “tentative” signs that Trump’s worst days in terms of job approval ratings may be over. Trump’s job approval ratings have been slowly but steadily rising for the past four months. This is the longest sustained increase (+3%) in his numbers for his young presidency. Of course, it would take just one ill-considered tweet for him to lose all of this improvement.
In addition, the generic ballot polling questions regarding the midterm elections are starting to show a small rebound for the Republicans. While the party gap in the poll averages are still over 5 percentage points (in the Democrats favor), it is a big improvement over just five months ago when the gap was near 12 percentage points.
These recent trends are small and far from conclusive. But, if I am a Democrat, I’m obsessing about those ‘small turns in the numbers.’ They may be an ‘early clue to the new direction.’
One of my favorite movie scenes comes from The Beatle’s first film, A Hard Day’s Night, wonderfullysummarizes the political punditry class’s unending quest to predict future trends.
In the scene, George Harrison accidentally stumbles into an advertising executive’s office and finds himself recruited to be in an ad campaign featuring a young model named Susan.
Near the end of the scene, after Harrison is run out of the office for mocking ‘this Susan,’ the ad executive turns to his secretary and asks: “You don’t think he’s the new phenomenon, do you?”
“You mean an early clue to the new direction?” she replies.
“Where’s the calendar?” he says as he points to the calendar. “Its’s alright. He’s just a troublemaker. The change isn’t due for three weeks yet. All the same. Make a note not to extend Susan’s contract. Lets not take any unnecessary chances.”
That’s a pretty fair depiction of political polling and marketing as well. Seek the early clues. The new directions. Nate Silver, Kellyanne Conway and Frank Luntz are millionaires for a reason.
The smart money still remains solidly in the Democrats’ corner for the midterms. A lot must change in the environment for the Republicans to have any chance of keeping the House. Even as some national poll numbers improve, on a race-by-race analysis, the sudden rash of retirements and the district-level polling data do not bode well for them.
Nonetheless, we’ve seen this movie before. Heading into election day, the Democrats are in control. What could possibly go wrong?
About the author: Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY). He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.
By Kent Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, April 12, 2018)
As inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) prepare to go to Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian city of Douma, the U.S. and its allies are sending mixed messages on what should be the proper response to the chemical attack which left a reported 70 people dead and 500 more injured.
French President Emmanuel Macron says he has proof the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Douma, though nothing has yet been released to the public. At the same time, he insists any response to that attack on civilians must not escalate the Syrian conflict. British PM Theresa May has been similarly conflicted and non-committal on what the proper response should be.
As typical, German chancellor Angela Merkel has been more decisive, ruling out any German participation in any military action in Syria, and emphasizing instead the importance of unity among Western allies.
As this is happening in the Western capitals, the OPCW announced on Tuesday its plan to investigate the Douma incident: “The OPCW Technical Secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment. This has coincided with a request from the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly.”
Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a state-backed think-tank in Moscow, says a military strike against Syria will only escalate U.S. and Russian tensions while doing little to change the trajectory of the conflict. More ominously, he believes a wider Middle East war is possible if such a retaliatory attack occurs.
“I don’t want to sound apocalyptic — we are not there yet. But we are moving in that direction,” he said earlier in the week.
The U.S. is beyond just ‘moving’ in that direction. In January, the Trump administration decided to permanently separate northeast Syria from the rest of Syria with the intent of keeping Iranian influence out of Syria and keeping the U.S. relevant when a final Syrian settlement is negotiated.
The U.S. plan to train the Syrian Border Security Force (BSF), which will be primarily composed of Kurdish fighters along the Syrian-Turkey border, has already aggravated Turkey, which is engaged in its own internal conflict with Kurdish terrorist groups, such as the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Should the Trump administration decide to turn its occupation of northeast Syria into a regime change war, the U.S. will need far more than the 2,000 troops already in place in northeast Syria.
But, as we’ve seen from previous U.S. invasions in the Middle East, troop numbers can escalate rapidly once the president gives the order.
As with the Iraq War in 2003, when the George W. Bush administration accelerated its “marketing campaign” in September 2002 to sell the idea of an Iraq invasion to the American public, the first indication of the Trump administration’s intent to invade Syria may come from the U.S. news media.
Prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, The New York Times’ Judith Miller penned the first of many disastrously inaccurate stories about Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD program in December 2001, in what became a coordinated war dance by the national news media by the end of 2002.
We may be seeing this same dynamic starting again, evidenced by the U.S. news media’s coverage of the Douma attack which has been peppered with often blustery calls for the Trump administration to escalate the American military role in Syria.
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell (April 8, 2018): “Trump has to take action. What he ought to do is a coordinated action. There has to be a comprehensive response (to the Douma attack).”
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (April 8, 2018): “As Trump leaves (Syria) to fight his imaginary border war, he’s leaving the real war where we could make a difference and he’s turning it over to Assad and Iran and ISIS. This is something Barack Obama wouldn’t even do if confronted with these set of facts.”
National Review editorial board (April 11, 2018): “We should get an authorization from Congress for using force in Syria rather than stretching Bush-era authorizations to justify red-line strikes and other operations in the country. One way or the other, the missiles are going to fly. What remains to be seen is if this the beginning of a more robust Syria strategy or a substitute for one.”
The New York Times editorial board (April 11, 2018): “What to do next in Syria is a crucial test for Mr. Trump, who has shirked America’s traditional leadership role. He has tried to seem like a macho leader who would aggressively use American power where President Barack Obama wouldn’t, while talking about pulling out of the Middle East and walking away from international commitments. With such inconstancy, he will not be able to stop the violence in Syria, and with no clear, unified plan with the Western allies, he will only empower Mr. Assad.
The New York Times is all but calling Trump a ‘chicken’ and doing the obligatory wing flap and cackle.
This kabuki dance the U.S. news media does prior to every new U.S.-led war is predictable. The media, for its part, is in the business of attracting audiences and wars do exactly that.
Hopefully, this isn’t the run-up to a much larger U.S. commitment in the Syrian conflict.
Donald Trump’s digital strategy in the 2016 presidential campaign, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and with a likely assist from the Russians, had a demonstrable impact on the election outcome.
If it was not a decisive factor in the final outcome, it was pretty damn close.
Its apparent targeting focused on those potential “conservative” voters most vulnerable to defecting to the Hillary Clinton: Less-than-strong conservatives over 40 years of age who used social media to share political information during the campaign.
“Slightly conservative” and “conservative” Americans accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. vote eligible population in 2016 according to the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES). And within that 25 percent, just under half of them said they used Facebook or Twitter (hereafter referred to as social media) to share political information during the campaign. That is almost 29 million people.
That is a large number of potential voters considering the 2016 electoral college result would have changed if only 70,000 Trump voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin had voted for Clinton instead.
Our findings, summarized below, are derived from an analysis of the ANES, a pre-post election survey fielded by Stanford University and the University of Michigan (see Appendix A for details on the survey methodology).
Older, less-than-strong conservative voters in 2016 that used social media for sharing political information had noticeably different attitudes
Trump’s digital strategy appears to have been focused on shoring up support among his base by driving up negative feelings towards Hillary Clinton. And, based on the ANES data, the strategy was effective.
In rating Hillary Clinton on a 0 to 100 favorability scale, on average, “slightly conservative” adults aged 40 or older who used social media to share political information gave her a rating of 20.7, compared to 32.1 among otherwise similar adults who had not used social media for sharing political information (see Figure 1 below). A similar relationship emerged among “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older).
Within the other voter segments defined by age and ideology, there were no significant differences in Clinton ratings between social media users and non-social media users.
While not be definitive evidence of the impact of Cambridge Analytica or Russian meddling, it is strong evidence of the effectiveness of Trump’s digital strategy.
When we looked at the relative difference in favorability towards Clinton and Trump (see Figure 2 below), older conservatives again stood out.
Older conservatives that used social media to share political information were significantly more positive towards Trump relative to Clinton (Favorability Gap = 74.1 points), when compared to those in the same demographic category but who did not use social media for political information sharing (Favorability Gap = 53.7 points).
Relative perceptions of the candidates’ honesty was also an important factor in voters’ decision calculus (see Appendix B for a logistic regression model of the 2016 vote choice).
When assessing the honesty of the two presidential candidates, “slightly conservative” and “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older) who used social media also indicated a greater honesty gap in Trump’s favor (Honesty Gap = 1.8 and 2.5, respectively), compared to otherwise similar adults (Honesty Gap = 0.9 and 1.9 points, respectively; see Figure 3 below).
We believe these findings are strong, if not conclusive evidence, that Trump’s digital campaign had a demonstrable impact on the 2016 election.
Quantifying the impact of Trump’s digital strategy
Based on the 2016 ANES survey data, we estimate 28.7 million vote eligible Americans (or about 12 percent of the voter eligible population) were prime targets for the Trump campaign’s social media strategy, and 15.9 million of them voted (see Table 1 below).
If we remove the “social media effect” (SME) in the 2016 presidential election, we estimate that 849,000 Trump voters would have voted for Clinton instead (Note: We refer to the “social media effect” as the “Facebook-Twitter effect” (FTE) in Table 2 below.)
Without the SME, Trump would have lost the popular vote by 3.7 million votes and would have lost Michigan by 19,000 votes (see Table 2 above), yet he still would have won the electoral college in our estimation. But not by much.
Keep in mind, we are not considering other subgroups, particularly “middle of the road” voters, that also may have been impacted by Trump’s social media efforts. The 849,000 votes switched estimate is probably conservative.
Trump’s Facebook ads (particularly those created by the Russians) probably broke through the clutter
The 2016 ANES data cannot tell us what social media ads respondents saw during the campaign. But our analysis reveals the targeted impact of Trump’s digital strategy.
All you have to do is look at some of the Facebook ads from the 2016 campaign to see why Trump’s, particularly those created by the Russians (Internet Research Agency), may have worked better than Clinton’s.
Across the small sample of Facebook ads below, the mainstream Clinton and Trump ads all look professional but are unspectacular and mostly forgettable. The Trump ads created by the Russians (IRA) are crude, unprofessional, and hard to ignore.
Clinton Facebook ads
Trump Facebook Ads
Trump Facebook ads (Russian-created)
For better or worse, Trump’s campaign was about breaking the rules and conventions of presidential campaigning. He was an unconventional candidate and his digital strategy reflected that fact.
And we now have evidence that the Trump campaign’s digital strategy had a measurable and possibly decisive role in determining the 2016 election outcome.
Appendix A — Methodology
The 2016 American National Elections (Time-Series) Study is sponsored and managed by the University of Michigan and Stanford University.
The national survey is designed to assess electoral participation, voting behavior, and public opinion as it relates to eligible U.S. voters. In addition to the political content of the survey, it also measures media exposure, cognitive style, and personal values.
Data collection for the ANES 2016 Time Series Study began in early September and was completed in January, 2017. Pre-election interviews were conducted with study respondents during the two months prior to the 2016 elections and were followed by post-election re-interviewing beginning November 9, 2016. Both face-to-face interviewing and Internet-based data collection was conducted independently, using separate samples but substantially identical questionnaires. Web-administered cases constituted a representative sample separate from the face-to-face.
The SPSS dataset we used for our analysis combined the face-to-face and Internet samples which can be summarized as follows:
Analytic survey weights, provided by the ANES researchers, were used in all of the quantitative analyses presented in this article.
A complete description of the ANES 2016, including datasets, questionnaires, and supporting documentation, can be found here.
Appendix B: Logistic Model of the 2016 Presidential Vote (American National Election Study)
News of another chemical weapons attack in Syria, this time in Douma, reminds us of how deep and unresolved that conflict remains.
The Western media have generally been quick to blame the Assad regime for this latest attack, while Assad and the Russians have been equally quick to deny their culpability in this horrendous act that killed at least 70 civilians, mostly women and children.
That the blame has been so quickly assigned to Assad’s regime is predictable and with some merit; however, it is the breadth and ferocity of America’s media and governing elite to also blame Donald Trump for this cruel act that is most troublesome.
In a Washington Post editorial just days before this latest chemical attack, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough writes: “ That the U.S. president announced his plan to cede Syria to Vladimir Putin had to be deeply unsettling for those three countries, which are under continuous threat from Russia. But they are certainly not alone. America’s friends and foes alike must be asking themselves what kind of country cedes Iraq to Iran in a catastrophic, ill-planned war; abandons that country in 2011 after returning a semblance of order; sits idly by while 500,000 Syrians are slaughtered; allows, through inaction and neglect, for the rise of the Islamic State; and belatedly crushes the Islamic State’s dream of a thousand-year caliphate — only to once again move to abandon the region, thereby empowering the Islamic State, Iran, Russia and the murderous Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
But the most troubling conclusion Scarborough draws is the following: “After years of endless bloodshed, the U.S. military has finally learned to fight an enemy such as the Islamic State in a way that is successful and sustainable.”
Scarborough’s builds his thesis from the dubious assertion that the defeat of ISIS (at least as a territory-controlling entity) was solely the work of U.S. military strategy and ignoring the fact that, by following Russia’s lead, we stopped fighting a two-pronged war (one against Assad and one against ISIS) and decided to concentrate on the beatable foe, ISIS.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius takes the war-mongering to an even more cynical level by suggesting it is the ‘feel-good’ thing to do.
“One face of the war in Syria that Americans don’t often see is the U.S. Army trauma surgeon, standing in the midday sun on the outskirts of Raqqa, taking a brief break from her near-constant duty in the operating room treating Syrians whose limbs have been shattered by bombs and booby traps. The doctor is a lieutenant colonel serving with U.S. Special Operations forces,” writes Ignatius about one of his experiences during a four-day trip to Syria in February. “The lieutenant colonel is part of the Syria mission that President Trump seems determined to end. Reflecting on the surgeon and the scores of other U.S. soldiers I’ve met during three trips to Syria since 2016, I can’t help thinking that there’s something about this mission — which has been low cost and high success, according to commanders — that Trump doesn’t understand.”
The U.S. doesn’t fight wars so our troops can feel good about themselves. We fight wars to protect our national interests when they are threatened.
As an extra measure, for any remaining skeptics towards a new U.S. occupation in the Middle East, Ignatius ends with this doughy anecdote: “I’m flying out of Syria on a C-130 cargo plane. Sitting next to me is a young officer who’s upset to be on that flight, for two reasons. He is going home to see his mother, who’s very ill. And he is leaving his comrades on the battlefield before the fight is over. He hates that last idea. So should we all.”
Ignatius should have told the young officer, no need to worry, the war in Syria will never be over. The officer will have plenty of time to rejoin the fight.
A fight that Scarborough and Ignatius both suggest the U.S. has learned how to win.
After almost 17 years of U.S. troops fighting jihadists and anti-Western combatants, have we really discovered the secret sauce necessary to bring peace and stability to Syria and the Middle East in general?
Of course not.
Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret., who retired in 2015 after serving in four combat deployments (including Syria) offers boots-on-the-ground experience in the Middle East and concludes that now is not the time for the U.S. to make a bigger troop commitment in Syria.
“Aside from the fact it is militarily impossible to accomplish the laundry-list of goals in Syria — ‘countering’ Iran (which can’t even be defined), opposing Assad (which isn’t necessary for U.S. security), and stopping Turkey from attacking Syrian Kurds (risking confrontation with our NATO ally),” Davis writes in an op-ed essay for CNBC.com. “It is not in America’s interests to stay in Syria for objectives so disconnected from our security and prosperity. Contrary to conventional wisdom in Washington, the strategic benefit doesn’t come anywhere close to justifying the cost.”
Davis also counters the suggestion the U.S. leaving Syria will embolden Russia.
“ Many fear that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria would hand a victory to Russia. That concern is also misplaced. Russia has an enduring interest in Syria in holding on to their sole Middle East warm water port at Tartus,” Davis writes. “ So long as Assad stays in power, they (Russia) will continue to hold it (Tartus), quite irrespective of whether the U.S. remains or withdraws. What Russia wins by the departure of U.S. troops, however, is becoming the primary owner of the Syrian disaster and all the strategic costs that come with it. American power throughout the Middle East remains robust and undiminished, and will continue to dwarf that of Russia even after the small contingent of U.S. troops has returned home.”
Davis finally concludes: “ Syria remains embroiled in a civil war with scores of groups and militias trying to attain various and competing objectives. The remaining fight there belongs to them, not the United States.”
The chemical attack in Douma is tragic and must be addressed by the international community. And should the UN confirm Assad’s role in the attack, there must be an international response that includes holding Russia accountable as well.
A new and larger U.S. occupation force in Syria, however, should not be considered one of the viable options.
About the author: Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY). He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.