Category Archives: Opinion

Things we will learn in 2019

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 28, 2018)

Every year we gain new information that shocks our political and social system.

For example, in the year 2018, we learned that Donald Trump is subject to the same political laws of gravity as every previous president. The party of a president with approval in the low-40s is going to get clobbered in the midterm elections and lose around 40 U.S. House seats. [OK, maybe that was known before 2018, but given 2016, more than a few people wondered if perhaps Trump and the GOP had discovered a new formula for electoral success. In fact, they have not.]

We also learned that Donald Trump is not going to change. He’s is not rising up to the office’s status, as many would like, but in reality the office is conforming to him. And that is not a criticism or a compliment of the man. It is an observable fact, for better or worse.

And finally, in 2018, though shocking to some, it is still possible to end a U.S. military engagement. In the most recent case it is Syria, where the wailing outcries of the corporate, warmongering media has been met by Trump’s stone cold resilience to their emotional seizures.

History will record the Syrian civil war as a first-order humanitarian disaster exacerbated by an Obama administration that, in pursuing regime change, actively destabilized not just Syria but two other countries (Libya and Yemen), only to see hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die in the process. The Bashar al-Assad regime is brutal and culpable in the vast majority of those deaths, but so are the countries that thought arming anti-Assad Islamic extremists was a good idea. An man of integrity would have returned his Nobel Peace Prize in the light of such results.

So, what are we going to learn in 2019?

The most significant revelation in 2019 will probably happen towards the end of the year: Donald Trump will announce he will not run for re-election in 2020.

After months of secret negotiations with the Robert Mueller team and investigators with the FBI’s Southern District of New York, Trump will walk away from the presidency in exchange for — at a minimum — the neutering of any current or likely investigations into his children’s business and political dealings; and, more likely, there will also be an agreement to minimize Trump’s own exposure to criminal prosecution after he leaves office.

It will be a tough pill to swallow for Trump’s most ardent supporters, but equally hard to accept for the political mob that will, figuratively speaking, demand his public execution (i.e., impeachment and Senate conviction).

For the good of the Republic, that will not happen.

Like the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey as part of the deal to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may never know the exact nature of the Mueller-Trump deal. But the results will be observable to everyone. Donald Trump will walk away a one-term president, his supporters lionizing his Quixotic presidency and his opponents celebrating the end of their self-imposed, four-year nightmare.

But this is where the good news might end for the Democrats, however, as they will be forced to rationalize one of the core findings likely to emerge from the Mueller investigation: Pursing evidence on a political opponent’s possible illegal activities is not illegal, even if this includes making direct or indirect contact with Vladimir Putin-connected Russians.

A more complete discussion of the legal questions surrounding the Trump-Russia collusion story can be found here. However, here is a short summary of that essay:

There is no question, based on the known evidence, that the Trump campaign aggressively pursued what they internally believed to be their golden ticket to the presidency. Find Hillary’s missing emails and win the presidency.

[Clinton-haters assume there is something incriminating in the 30,000 missing emails. I do not assume that. When has either Clinton ever written something interesting or embarrassing— much less incriminating — in an email? Never, to my knowledge. They are too smart to be that stupid.]

But finding those emails was Donald Trump Jr.’s motive when he attended the Trump Tower meeting with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer. And that is what Roger Stone was doing when he was communicating with the hacker(s) Guccifer 2.0.

And why pursue the missing Clinton emails? Set aside the presumption that Clinton was involved in illegal activities that would have been revealed had the emails been released. [The Clinton’s prefer to engage in unethical activities for which there is legal cover.] Still, the act of allowing a private email server for work communications and then deleting the emails was a major set of missteps on Hillary Clinton’s part, and probably illegal (independent of any crime being revealed in the emails themselves).

It is a federal crime (a felony) to knowingly or unknowingly destroy evidence subpoenaed by a congressional committee. Furthermore, to premeditatively prevent or impair the ability of the federal government to possess federal records (e.g., work-related emails) in an effort to avoid public transparency laws (e.g., FOIA) is also a crime.

In a court of law would Clinton or her associates have been convicted of such crimes? Probably not, particularly if establishing motives becomes relevant to prosecution.

Nonetheless, it would have been a derelict of duty for the Trump campaign not to make the effort to find the missing emails.

Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, they were so outside the established political system that they didn’t understand how such opposition research is normally done.

A professional, well-run presidential campaign would have farmed out the task of investigating Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails to a friendly journalist and/or private investigative firm. That is what Fusion GPS did for the Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. In compiling the Trump dossier on the Democratic Party’s dime, what Christopher Steele did was legal. Now, what the FBI did with the dossier in its effort to justify “spying” on the Trump campaign may not have been legal. Hopefully, someday a full accounting of what really happened within the FBI in 2016 will be brought to light. Color me skeptical, however.

That said, there is already evidence of the many legal landmines Trump operatives tripped over in their pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton. First and foremost, you do not lie to the FBI about the existence or nature of contacts with Russians. Roger Stone, the most experienced and sophisticated of the political shitmeisters employed by Trump during the campaign, was by most accounts the most aggressive operative in getting close to the Russians. He appears to have kept those contacts indirect (e.g. Wikileaks, Guccifer 2.0) and focused on ascertaining the existence of stolen emails, as opposed to participating in their theft, providing material support to the theft, or coordinating their release subsequent to the theft.

The latter three actions would be, quite likely, illegal…and, because he is a slimy shitmeister, Roger Stone knows that.

Don’t forget that Roger Stone, perhaps more than any single human, is responsible for George W. Bush winning the presidency in 2000. It was Stone who organized the protests outside Florida’s county election offices during the recount period. It was those protests that significantly slowed down the recount effort to the point where the election officials were destined to miss the court-imposed deadline; and, hence, had the entire issue passed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We all know how that turned out. You can thank Roger Stone.

But what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far does not constitute a conspiracy-level of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign — and certainly not by the president himself. The public evidence simply doesn’t exist.

Even prior knowledge of Russia’s social media trolling activities would not necessarily constitute a crime.

In terms of concrete evidence about a conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, all we have is speculation and conjecture. For example,

What if Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm hired by the Trump campaign, shared targeting information with the Russians? [That would be illegal.]

Or how about the Israeli data firm, Psy-Group, which had a cooperative agreement with Cambridge Analytica? What if they manipulated content on social media in a coordinated effort with the Trump campaign? [That would be illegal.]

And did foreign contributions end up in the Trump campaign coffers? [Not that such a thing would be unprecedented in American political history; but that would be illegal.]

All would be interesting facts…and, if true, possible elements of a conspiracy. But such evidence has never been offered by the Mueller team or the news media.

And that is where the Mueller investigation is likely to end: A lot of interesting conjecture short on proof. A few Trump associates will be indicted for mostly process crimes (George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn), and perhaps low-order conspiracy charges against Roger Stone (and possibly others) for coordinating with foreign agents the release of the Russia-stolen Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails.

If you believe the Russians stole the 2016 election (and I offer empirical evidence Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta emails did have an impact), the final Mueller report is likely to be a big letdown.

Mueller is unlikely to reveal a grand conspiracy — certainly not on the scale still promoted by the establishment media. However, Mueller has opened the door into Trump’s business and tax activities that do significantly threaten his presidency (and, possibly, his freedom). That, far more than the ersatz Trump-Russia collusion narrative, is sufficient to scare the president into an early political retirement.

And, finally, perhaps the biggest reveal in 2019 will be how much the Washington establishment has lost control and may never get it back they way they’d like.

Trump is an invasive species, much like the python snakes taking over the Florida everglades. Once they’ve invaded, the damage is not only done, it is all but impossible to reverse.

Trump, himself, may not survive politically past 2020. But what he represents — imperfectly as he does — will not go away. Power centers independent of the political establishment are already emerging within D.C. that the current establishment leaders cannot control, at least not completely.

This is particularly the case for a Democratic Party, led by Rep Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, that has offered no answer to the demands of the party’s progressive caucus.

Progressive Democrats have at least one model for how to impact Washington politics going forward:

For 10 years the Republican’s congressional Freedom Caucus has effectively marginalized the power of the GOP’s congressional leadership — despite, as a party, controlling Congress. The Democrats’ progressive caucus is likely to do the same to their leadership with one big, BIG difference. Where the Freedom Caucus never had a true field general — Sarah Palin could have been that person had she shown a capacity for self-improvement and offered more than just her charisma and marketability to the GOP base — the progressive Democrats have deep bench of charismatic and articulate leaders.

Most of the media attention goes to newly-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is hardly the progressive’s only field general. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is already running intellectual circles around party dinosaurs like Howard Dean, whose “grotesque smear” of Khanna’s stance that our military occupation of Afghanistan has run its course gives a good sense of how out-of-touch the Democratic Party establishment has become.

Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna and other progressive movement leaders is perhaps even more revolutionary than the Trump phenomenon. With the exceptions of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, no female politician in my lifetime has been the target of as many personal attacks in such a short period of time — including questions about her intelligence — than Ocasio-Cortez.

And, yet, she hits back twice as hard as she receives.

Here is her response to a DC Examiner columnist who thought he was clever calling Ocasio-Cortez a ‘bitch’:

 

While sometimes she gets her objective facts wrong (on usually minor details), Ocasio-Cortez makes up for it with a natural savvy for tactical politics that Bill Clinton would envy.

Ocasio-Cortez’ prompt responses to attacks are always mixed with “grace and wit”— which makes her very un-Trumpian — but pointed enough to discourage even her most prominent critics from pursuing an extended fight on social media.

And this hasn’t happened just once or twice. She does it almost every friggin’ day. She’s like the pride-leading, female velociraptor in Jurassic Park, when she targets you, there is nowhere to run. [My wife warns me that comparing the New York congresswoman to a carnivorous dinosaur is sexist and demeaning. I vigorously disagree and I’m sticking with the comparison…]

Source: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

And it is not just Ocasio-Cortez showing considerable fortitude amidst constant attacks. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are repeatedly trolled on social media by agents of Persian Gulf governments, often over their opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and efforts to isolate Iran.

“Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Tlaib, and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” writes Ola Salem in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.

Source: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Of course, none of those accusations have any merit, but highlight the challenges these women, and the progressive Democrats in general, are likely to face in the future.

It may be too soon to write the obituary for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but this new progressive surge feels somehow different.

The new Democratic establishment darling, Beto O’Rourke — another centrist Democrat posing as a progressive without ever voting like one— may not be enough to make Americans forget how disconnected the national party is from the issues discussed across most kitchen tables in this country.

The corporatist Democrats have had a good twenty or so year run, funneling money into the pockets of their core constituencies — Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical executives, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the defense industry, etc. — and using the divisiveness of culture war issues to distract average Americans from more substantive matters.

That is all about to change…in a big way…and that is the most important thing we will learn in 2019.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Reality is the real winner if the U.S. pulls out of Syria

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 23, 2018)

Leave it to Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard to give a reasoned and thoughtful criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

“We need to get our troops out of Syria ASAP, but it must be done responsibly,” she tweeted son after Trump’s decision was announced. “Turkey will see this as an invitation to invade northern Syria, decimate our Kurdish allies and strengthen jihadists like al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., undermining our national security and causing more suffering.”

She followed up with another tweet:

“The underlying problem is that for too long our leaders have had no clear direction or objective when it comes to foreign policy. So without a clear mission and objective, it’s impossible to know whether any particular decision will help us achieve that mission.”

Many serious observers of the situation in Syria, like Gabbard, understand the urgent need for the U.S. to leave Syria but also realize the U.S. needs to do so in an orderly and deliberate manner so the Kurds are not completely abandoned and ISIS is not allowed to re-establish itself.

If Gabbard is anything, she is a realist. A personal quality seriously lacking in Washington, D.C.

Syrian government troops are already dashing eastward to fill in the void that will be left after the U.S. pullout, the first goal being to secure the oil and gas rich areas critical to financing Syria’s reconstruction efforts. If Trump has gifted Assad anything, it will be the revival of Syria’s energy revenue stream.

Concurrently, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are fast creating and reinforcing trenches and defense barriers in preparation for what now looks like an imminent Turkish offensive against the Kurds (which, if it occurs, will be an illegal act likely to be broadly condemned within the international community).

There was no reason to believe — even a week ago — that Trump was going to make this move in Syria.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” said National Security Adviser John Bolton said just last September, publicly acknowledging that the U.S. presence in Syria was now less a counter-terrorism operation than a strategic maneuver to contain Iran.

Specifically, U.S. troops in Syria, particularly those stationed at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border and near Jordan, are impeding Iran’s ability to move freely between western Iraq and Lebanon.

Presumably, Iran, Bashar al Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are the big winners in the U.S. pullout, and the Kurds and Syria’s Sunni majority are the big losers.

But as detailed by Joost Hiltermann and Maria Fantappie for Foreign Policy magazine, the intent of the U.S. occupation in northeastern Syria has never been about establishing an independent Kurdish state (in Syria and Iraq). The Kurds were never going to be the winners once ISIS was defeated (or near defeat, as in the current situation).

“ U.S. officials had long opposed any changes to the Middle East’s borders for fear of setting off an unstoppable domino effect,” they write.

Critics of Trump’s Syria pullout are merely manipulating the Kurdish plight to justify an open-ended occupation of one-third of Syria by U.S. forces. Long before the Trump administration, the Kurds knew the U.S. was never a reliable ally.

Trump just confirmed it.

Instead, Trump just forced a level of realism into Syrian Kurdish thinking that may, in fact, lead to a sustainable arrangement between the Kurds and the Assad regime (and perhaps the Turks as well).

Despite her disapproval of Trump’s pullout decision, Maha Yahya, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that the pullout will force the Kurds to negotiate with the Assad regime.

That is a good thing, because there was never going to be an independent Kurdish state in northeast Syria, no matter how loudly critics of the U.S. pullout scream about how close we are to achieving it.

Reality may be the big winner in Syria after the U.S. pullout.

  • K.R.K.

(Send comments and insults to kroeger98@yahoo.com)

Bella gerant alii (Let others wage war)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 21, 2018)

The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.

President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.

Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.

As recently as last February, at least 200 Russian mercenaries (if they were Americans we’d call them ‘contractors’) were killed by U.S. troops during a 4-hour skirmish in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region.

Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.

The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.

But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.

“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

“Russia, Iran, Assad… are ecstatic!” declares South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.

Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.

Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.

However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.

As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.

Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.

Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.

But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.

Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?

In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:

“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”

And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.

After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.

In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Tracking possible war crimes in Yemen

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 19, 2018)

With the U.S. Senate recently voting to end U.S. assistance in the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen, the symbolic gesture may represent a genuine turning point in the three-and-a-half year conflict.

…or maybe just more false hope.

The Yemen civil war, in which no resolution is in sight, is generally portrayed as a conflict between the Houthi militia in western Yemen, a movement affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, and forces allied with Houthi-deposed Yemen President Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni Muslim re-elected president in 2012 in a contest where he ran unopposed and received 100 percent of the popular vote.

Figure 1. Religious Map of Yemen

Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

 

Layered within Yemen’s complex domestic situation, however, is a proxy war between Saudi-UAE-led forces and Iran, who backs the Houthis, though their level of support is disputed. But even this proxy war is itself embedded within a larger regional contest fueled by a U.S.-Israel-Saudi-led obsession with containing Iran’s growing (but limited) influence in the Middle East. The Israeli’s have a palpable and legitimate concern with Iran’s potential to control a continuous land-based supply route between Tehran and the potent and highly-trained Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon. The long-term posture of the U.S. occupation of Syria’s eastern provinces is, in fact, largely predicated on preventing this from becoming a reality.

From the Iranian perspective, their involvement in Syria in supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime, is a much higher priority than Yemen.

“Iran has an obtainable objective in Syria: protecting one of its few allies in the Arab world,” says Dr Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its goals in Yemen are far less defined.”

“Although both Syria and Yemen have been within the geopolitical radar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for at least the last decade, the former is much more important geostrategically as it constitutes a bridge to Hizballah and the Mediterranean,” says Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Iran’s Yemen activities are primarily geared towards bogging down its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”

As such, the atrocities being perpetrated against the Yemenis are predominately owned by the Saudi-led coalition forces, which is why American and British complicity is so problematic.

The civilian toll in Yemen (as best we can discern)

Any attempt to measure civilian deaths and casualties resulting from the civil war is fraught with difficult and likely to be imperfect. Nonetheless, growing international attention to the conflict is bringing with it conscientious efforts to measure its social costs.

An effort to measure Yemeni civilian deaths by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex (UK), is one such example.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, an ACLED researcher who focuses on Yemen. ACLED further estimates that 2,000 Yemeni civilians are now dying each month largely due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.

The ACLED estimate of 56,000 deaths is significantly higher than previous estimates that have typically assessed the civilian death toll in Yemen to be around 10,000.

“One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated,” writes long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. “The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.”

Why 10,000 deaths wouldn’t be sufficient to inspire a public outcry is unclear, but regardless of the precise number, what is clear is the consistent attention now being placed on the Yemen civil war by the European media. [Sadly, the U.S. media can’t seem to break away long enough from their mostly dishonest Trump-Russia collusion narrative to actually cover the Yemen conflict with any depth.]

And as this light is being directed towards Yemen, more attention is being focused on the genuine possibility that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-UAE-US-UK coalition.

What is a war crime?

The body of statutes often used to define a war crime are the Geneva Conventionsthe Hague Convention on land warfare of 1907 (concerning the Laws and Customs of War), and the 1998 International Criminal Court Statute.

Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Convention expressly states that it is forbidden:

(a) To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
(c) To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
(d) To declare that no quarter will be given;
(e) To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
(g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.

Similarly, Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as:

“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Finally, in creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), the 1998 International Criminal Court (Rome) Statute formally established the ICC’s functions, jurisdiction and structure. Specifically, it empowered the ICC to investigate and prosecute four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

The “extensive destruction…of property, not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute and, in the case of Yemen, this would seem to describe the coalition’s attacks on Yemen, particularly its water and food infrastructure (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Farms and Food-related Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

The Laws and Customs of War allow for states to attack an enemy combatant’s economic and military infrastructure in order to degrade its military effectiveness. But the primary consequence of destroying a nation’s food production and distribution system is famine among the civilian population.

That is a war crime.

In an independent report submitted in October 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Emeritus Martha Mundy, the report’s author, offered this observation:

“If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, herders, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of Sanaa,” wrote Mundy.

“Deliberate destruction of family farming and artisanal fishing is a war crime,” she concluded, citing the 1977 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which, through International Humanitarian Law, protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.

In building the report’s case, Mundy relied heavily on data from the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which has been tracking coalition military strikes and incidents in Yemen since 2016.

Along with the ACLED, the evidence collected through the YDP’s systematic and comprehensive data collection may prove indispensable should the Saudis and its coalition partners be investigated for war crimes in the future.

The Yemen Data Project

The Yemen Data Project (YDP) is an independent, non-profit data collection project aimed at increasing the transparency over the conduct of the Yemen civil war.

The YDP collects military event data through open sources that are “cross-referenced with local and international news agencies and media reports; social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other video footage, and WhatsApp; reports from international and national NGOs; official records from local authorities; and reports by international human rights groups.” When independent reporting is unavailable, the data has been cross referenced with sources from opposing sides to the conflict as to ensure the reporting is as accurate and impartial as possible.

In YDP’s words, their data represents the “best current current understanding of incidents” in Yemen.

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Many years ago I taught an introductory international politics class at The University of Iowa and one of its obligatory class segments covered the “laws of war.” As I always allocated the last 15 minutes of the class to an open discussion about the lecture topic of the day, this particular segment elicited strong opinions among students. Even the most marginal students seemed to have an opinion about how wars the acceptable rules of war.

From class to class, variants on these questions would inevitably emerge:

“How is that chemical weapons are unacceptable, but dropping atomic bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is OK?”

“If you are at war with another country, aren’t you also at war with its citizens?”

“How can there be rules for war? It’s war!”

Unlike today’s educational environment, my classes in the early 90s made no attempt to suppress or censor ideas or opinions. The class debates were lively, contentious and open-ended, never ending in a broad consensus on what constitutes a ‘war crime’ or acceptable laws for war.

Differences of opinion were exciting in the day.

At some point during the class discussion, I would offer these quotes from U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, best known for his role in planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan during World War II, in addition to his tenure as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965:

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

In no way did I endorse General LeMay’s views on civilians and warfare (in fact, I despise the man), but I shared the quotes as I felt he conveyed the fundamental argument (still made today) as to why civilians are legitimate targets in war.

Like it or not, ‘war crimes’ often depend on the eye of the beholder.

Had the U.S. lost World War II, the Allies’ fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo would have defined ‘war crimes’ for generations. As it turned out, such attacks, at least from the Allies’ perspective, were just the realities of war.

Why should the war in Yemen require different rules?

Because human thinking has evolved since World War II, that’s why.

Two hypotheses about civilian targeting in the Yemen civil war

With over 18,900 military incidents between March 2015 and November 2018 in their database, the YDP offers the best open-source information available on the Yemen conflict. Along with the date and the time of day (daypart) of the incident, the YDP database also includes location and summary target information.

In analyzing this data, while I use the YDP’s data to reference the ‘target,’ it is dangerous to assume the intended ‘target’ for each incident. What we can assume, however, is that anyone on the receiving end of a coalition bombing attack felt like a ‘target’ and so that is how I define the term in the following analyses.

The guiding purpose in this analysis, therefore, is to describe the anti-Houthi coalition’s ‘targeting’ as part of the process in determining whether civilians were systematically targeted.

The YDP dataset alone, however, cannot discern the targeting intent of the coalition’s military leadership, but it offers one of the best open-source insights into this question: How would we know if civilians were systematically targeted by the coalition?

Short of possessing internal coalition communications and targeting process memos, we are forced to discern targeting intent through identifying patterns within the attacks. And to do that, we must start with hypotheses regarding the patterns we’d expect to see in the YDP data if the targeting of civilians was premeditated and systematic.

Let us start with a hypothesis, if true, would go a long way in exonerating the coalition from charges of targeting civilians.

H1: If coalition attacks against Yemeni civilians were incidental, their occurrence within the YDP data should be patternless, random events that otherwise track closely to the coalition’s non-civilian attack patterns.

And even if this hypothesis (H1) is rejected by the data and we find a pattern within civilian attacks, we may still find evidence that the coalition, while targeting civilians areas, systematically made an effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties.

Our second hypothesis addresses how the data might reflect that reality.

H2: If, in targeting civilian areas in pursuit of military objectives, the coalition attempted to minimize civilian casualties, we should expect coalition targeting of civilian areas to be concentrated on dayparts when civilians tend to be away from their homes.

Specifically, civilians tend to be at home in the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours and away from home in the morning, midday and afternoon hours. Did the coalition systematically try to avoid hitting civilian areas during dayparts when people tend to be home?

Let’s to go the data and see what we find…

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Before testing our two hypothesis, let us describe the YDP data more generally.

Figure 3 (below) breaks out the targets of every coalition attack since March 2015 and finds that 35 percent of the coalition’s targets since March 2015 were military or security related, followed by ‘unknown’ targets (33%) and civilian targets (13%). Infrastructure targets (transportation and economic, etc.) accounted for 14 percent of all coalition targets.

Figure 3. Coalition Targets

 

Military and civilians targets were the primary focus of coalition attacks against Houthi forces between March 2015 and November 2018. And as seen in Figure 4 (below), the coalition attacks tended to occur at all parts of the day, though most occurred between midday and the early evening hours.

Figure 4. Coalition Attacks by Daypart

 

A mapping of coalition attacks (Figure 5) closely correlates with the tribal and religious clusters within Yemen, with the most intense bombing experienced in areas populated by the Zaidi (Shia) and Isma’ili (Shia) tribes in the Saada governorate.

Figure 5. Coalition Attacks by Governorate (March 2015 to November 2018)

 

The distribution of coalition attacks over time highlights two other major features of the Yemen civil war (see Figure 6). First, the number of daily attacks have generally decreased over time, going from about 20 per day between March 2015 and March 2017 to about 10 per day after March 2017. The second feature is a more dramatic decrease in attacks during a ceasefire period in May 2016.

Figure 6. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks (March 2015 to November 2018)

Besides the modest decline in the coalition’s daily attack tempo over the three-and-a-half years of the civil war, there are no other obvious patterns (e.g., seasonal) within the YDP data. However, the task here is to discerns patterns (or lack thereof) within the coalition’s attacks on civilian targets.

To do that, let us look closer at the YDP’s civilian target data.

Are Yemeni civilians being targeted by the coalition?

At this point, a brief understanding of what was included (and not included) in the YDP’s definition of a civilian target is helpful. Almost 75 percent of civilian targets in the YDP database were residential areas, followed by vehicles/buses (12%) and market places (9%). There were even 51 attacks on mosques, representing two percent of all attacks on civilian targets.

Figure 7. Sub-categories of Civilian Targets

Source: Yemen Data Project (Data covers period from March 2015 to November 2018) 

There are other civilian targets such as schools and medical facilities which YDP breaks out separately; though, those targets represent less than three percent of all coalition targets (see Figure 3 above).

My sub judice presumption is that, if civilian attacks are not the conscious result of military targeting, then their occurrences over time (‘accidents’ if you will) should be distributed randomly.

That is essentially the argument the Saudis have made when confronted by the international community about civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

In October 2018, after the Saudis had killed over 40 school children during an airstrike in August, Saudi Defense Minister Osaiker Alotaibi told an international investigatory panel that the Saudi-led alliance had a list of 64,000 civilian targets in Yemen that they would never attack, including schools and hospitals. Alotaibi stated further to the panel that previous civilian casualties were the result of “unintentional mistakes” and were not premeditated.

But in his testimony to the panel, Alotaibi also said the Houthis were putting civilians — including children — in harm’s way by using schools and hospitals as “refuges” for Houthi fighters.

Houthi representatives strongly deny Alotaibi’s accusation.

Regardless, if the Saudi ‘sloppy targeting’ defense is truthful, we should see evidence of it in the YDP data. Specifically, we should find the number of civilian attacks from day-to-day to be strongly correlated with the number of non-civilian attacks (primarily military/security-related targets); and, where they are not related, the variation in civilian attacks should be randomly distributed over time. Noise, in other words.

Figure 8 (below) plots civilian and non-civilian attacks over time, as well as the trend for each. Clearly, civilian and non-civilian attacks are correlated. Notice in both charts the three spikes in attacks between October 2015 and August 2016. Also, both show a similar downward trend in daily frequency.

On the surface, therefore, there is evidence to support the Saudi’s ‘sloppy targeting’ defense.

Figure 8. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Civilian and Non-Civilian Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

But surface looks can be deceiving, and a more formal analysis was done to see if civilian targeting was, in fact, merely collateral damage resulting from an otherwise legitimate military targeting process.

To do that, I first regressed the number of civilian target events on the number of non-civilian target events and used the residual from that equation to represent variation in civilian target events unrelated to non-civilian target events. Subsequently, I conducted a residual analysis to determine if the model residuals were normally-distributed, random noise.

Figure 9 (below) shows that the variation in the number of civilian attacks not explained by non-civilian attacks (i.e., the residual) is not a normal, randomly distributed variable.* More importantly, we can conclude that the day-to-day variation in coalition attacks on civilian targets cannot be explained by the military necessities of non-civilian targeting.

*The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was highly significant, indicating the data was not normally distributed.

Figure 9. Normal Q-Q Plot and Detrended Q-Q Plot of Unstandardized Residual from a Linear Model of Number of Civilian Targets Regressed on Number of Non-Civilian Targets

We have rejected our first hypothesis (H1) that civilian attacks by the coalition were merely the product of a legitimate military targeting process, but is there any evidence the coalition tried to minimize civilian casualties when they targeted civilian areas?

To answer that question, I looked at coalition attacks on civilian and non-civilian targets by daypart (early morning, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night). It is reasonable to presume that any attempt by the coalition to minimize civilian casualties would involving striking civilian targets (typically residential areas) during a time of day when civilians would not be home: namely, the midday and afternoon dayparts.

In Figures 10 and 11 (below) we see evidence of exactly that.

Where non-civilian attacks have tended to occur in the early morning (11%), evening (15%) and night (13%) dayparts, civilian attacks have tended to occur at midday (19%) and in the afternoon (15%). This is consistent with the Alotaibi claim that the coalition has in place procedures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

Still, approximately 28 percent of coalition attacks on civilian targets — most often residential areas — have occurred at times when people tend to be home (evening, night, early morning) — which translates into 688 separate and verifiable incidents (about one incident every other day) that the coalition attacked a civilian target at time when people will tend to be home.

Figure 10. Coalition Attacks on Yemeni Civilian vs. Non-Civilian Targets (by Daypart)

Figure 11 offers further evidence that the coalition may have preferred the midday and afternoon dayparts for attacks on civilian targets. Where civilian targets constitute around 13 percent of all attacks, they represent percent of between 22 and 25 percent of attacks in the midday and afternoon. This suggests the coalition may make an effort to minimize civilian casualties by conducing their attacks on targets in civilian areas at times when people tend to be at work, school or away from home.

This finding may not fully exonerate the Saudi-led coalition for possible war crimes committed against Yemeni civilians, but should the coalition partners face an ICC inquiry, it may offer at least partial exculpatory evidence.

Figure 11. Coalition Attacks by Target and Daypart

Final thoughts and next steps

What is most striking in the YDP data is the unrelenting consistency of the coalition’s operational tempo against Yemen. The bombers take very few days off.

Apart from the brief ceasefire period in May 2016, the coalition has unleashed almost 19,000 separate attacks on Yemen within less than four years (1,333 days). That works out to between 10 to 20 attacks every day.

And to what end? There is no evidence that the Houthis are going to relinquish power in western Yemen, and while there has been a slight decline in the coalition’s operational tempo since the Saudi’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the coalition’s attacks show no sign of ending soon either. And as long as the conflict continues, the work of the YDP and other similar independent groups are going to be critical for the foreseeable future.

And who will be paying attention to this unfolding tragedy that the UN calls the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster?

With all due respect to the U.S. Senate vote condemning the Saudi’s actions in Yemen, don’t expect much more from the America’s greatest deliberative body. There are few Capitol Hill advocates for Yemen, which controls no major oil or gas reserves and is home to not one oligarch likely to attend Davos next year. Taken together, this all but guarantees Yemen will not stay on the front burner of Senate business.

Even the world’s news media organizations have taken a ho-hum approach to covering the Yemen tragedy, as they have been far more more preoccupied with the conflict in Syria. The U.S. media, in particular, continues to show little interest in Yemen. In an analysis by media journalist Adam Johnson, it was found that between July 3, 2017 and July 3, 2018, MSNBC (the number one cable news network in that period) dedicated “zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels.”

That pretty much sums up American broadcast journalism today.

With that backdrop, this article represents the first in a series of data analyses I will be conducting on the YDP data. Additionally, I will be augmenting the YDP event data with other data sources (such the temporal-geographic distribution of cholera cases) to further investigate the impact the coalition’s attacks have had on the Yemen civilian population.

Only with transparency will there be any chance to hold Saudi Arabia, UAE, and their coalition partners accountable for their actions in Yemen.

-K.R.K.

The Partisan Divide Con

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 2, 2018)

Americans, we are being conned. We have been trained by the political and media establishment to not see the forest for the trees. If we did, we might very well vote them all out of power.

Instead, we buy the myths they sell and reflect them back to the establishment every two years when we go to the polls.

And what is the biggest myth? That our growing partisan divide — which is real when viewed across all possible issues — defines our current political state of affairs.

Name almost any issue and you will most likely find Americans deeply split along party lines.

Transgender rights. Climate change. Gun control. Abortion rights. On every one of these issues, the rift between Americans seems irreparable. And none more so than on immigration.

The rhetoric by both political parties on immigration over the past few months has bordered on apocalyptic and has been mostly dishonest. The Democrats cry ‘Racism!’ — though, there is no deterministic relationship between racism and wanting to control a country’s borders. Conversely, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of cultural sabotage and treason — when, in fact, new immigrants from Latin America are among our country’s fastest growing population of new entrepreneurs.

Most of what is heard on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News regarding the migrant ‘caravan’ on its way to the U.S. border is tripe, creating far more heat than light — yet, this issue may well help determine the outcomes in a number of critical U.S. House and Senate races next week.

And why?

This country is so enormous and powerful, it can absorb the 7,500 migrants like the Borg assimilates entire star systems on Star Trek. Fox News’ Shepherd Smith got it exactly right when he said this week, “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about.” Score one for the Democrats.

Sadly, the Democrats are just as mendacious.

A nation wanting to control entry and exit across its borders is not manifest racism. It is what countries are supposed to do. Since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, controlling one’s borders is part of what defines a nation-state.

But this issue is nonetheless going to partially define the 2018 midterm elections. It is unfortunate because, once again, Americans have been duped into thinking immigration policy is going to determine our country’s trajectory over the next few decades.

It will not.

Yes, immigration policy is important and, particularly as it relates to state-level budgetary pressures, sharp attention to our southern border should not be dismissed as irrelevant or used to slander the millions of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — who believe stopping or slowing illegal immigration is a good idea.

The real purpose of the immigration debate, however, is that it feeds the current narrative that Americans are more divided than ever. While true on a superficial level, this narrative cloaks the true nature of the American political and economic system — a system best defined by a bipartisan, durable consensus among the political, media and financial elites regarding the nation’s policy priorities.

Political elites are not as divided as we think

When researchers recently determined that the policy priorities of the U.S. are far more representative of economic elites’ interests over those of middle class Americans, what they are seeing is this bipartisan consensus among elites.

And what are these ‘policy priorities’?

As Mohandas Gandhi famously said, “Action expresses priorities.” And nowhere does his quote obtain more relevance than in the U.S. context.

And to know our country’s highest priorities, we need only look at how it spends our federal dollars (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. U.S Mandatory Budget (2019)

Source: Office of Management and Budget

Figure 2. U.S. Discretionary Budget (2019)

Source: nationalpriorities.org and U.S. Office of Management and Budget

All told, our federal government has four priorities: (1) Social Security, (2) Medicare/Medicaid, (3) Defense, and (4) Unemployment Insurance and Income Security programs. In addition to mandatory and discretionary spending, there is a third federal spending category: interest on the national debt. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. will pay $363 billion in interest on the debt in 2019, or about half of what we spend on the military ($727 billion). By 2026, interest paid on the debt will double.

In total, the mandatory and discretionary budgets come in around four trillion dollars, with mandatory spending accounting for 70 percent of this spending. For the remaining $1.19 trillion in discretionary spending, the military eats up 61 percent of the budget, and when discretionary veterans’ benefits are added, it comes close to 70 percent.

These budget priorities have defined the American political consensus since 1964, when LBJ passed his Great Society legislation with bipartisan support.

For all the heat generated in today’s partisan political environment, when it comes to the major elements of the federal budget, the establishment wings of both parties couldn’t be more bipartisan and cooperative with each other.

On an 85 to 10 vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Trump administration’s bloated 2019 defense budget with the help of 38 Democrats. Only two deficit-hawk Republicans, Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Mike Lee (Utah), and Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein (California), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Kamala Harris (California), Ed Marley (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) voted against the defense authorization bill. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) also voted against the bill. It is not a coincidence that four of the eight Dem./Ind. Senators who voted ‘No’ are likely to run for president in 2020.

Knowing the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will need substantial support from the party’s progressive wing, the Democrat’s Senate leadership likely released its prospective presidential candidates to vote against the defense authorization bill to enhance their viability in 2020.

The result was similar in the House, with 139 Democrats joining the GOP to pass the 2019 defense authorization bill.

The American people are also not as divided as we think

It is not a mystery why Congress can muster up so much bipartisanship when it generously funds the military or Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid. It isn’t just the political elites who are bipartisan — the American people are equally unified on these issues.

You wouldn’t know it by watching the news or reading a newspaper. But it is true — the American people are unified on the nation’s biggest budget priorities (though there is evidence that progressive Democrats and some libertarian Republicans are prepared to tear down the existing consensus).

One of the fundamental mistakes made by political scientists and pundits when they observe the significant and growing partisan divide in the U.S is this: they generally treat all issues as equal, which makes Americans look like they disagree on most everything.

They don’t.

If one were to quantify the opinion gap between partisans across all of these issues, the reasonable conclusion would be that Americans are deeply divided (see Figure 3).

Providing assistance to the world’s needy — a 43-point gap. Government assistance to the unemployed — a 34-point gap. Environmental protection — a 32-point gap.

But what is more interesting is where Americans tend to agree, regardless of party affiliation: Defense spending — a 19-point gap. Medicare — a 10-point gap. Social Security — a 7-point gap.

Figure 3. Where do Americans want to cut federal spending? (Pew Research, 2017)

Figure 3 shows how public opinion is nicely aligned with where Congress places its budgetary priorities. But doesn’t that argue against the conclusion that elites drive public policy more than mass opinion?

Not necessarily.

The 2014 Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page research study I’ve cited many times in my work demonstrates that the strongest causal arrow goes from elite opinion to public policy outcomes. Gilens and Page, in fact, address this criticism in a reply to their critics, published in 2016 in The Washington Post. In their study, even when mass opinion strongly correlated with elite opinion, there was still enough of a difference in elite opinion to show its more significant influence on public policy.

Regardless, the current bipartisan consensus on military, Social Security and Medicare spending is real, it has driven this nation’s budget priorities at least since the mid-60s, and it serves — not accidentally — the long-term interests of economic elites.

And this latter point gets at why the partisan divide con is hazardous to our democracy.

If partisans are aligned on the most important budgetary issues, where is the con?

Political scientist Michael Parenti observed over 30 years ago that “the state is more than a front for the economic interests it serves; it is the single most important force that corporate America has at its command.” But to control that force, control must extend to the mass populace that possesses the potential through the democratic process to constrain corporate America’s power over the state.

Where Parenti gets too deep into gooey socialist dogma, a more temperate understanding of the American economic system recognizes the significant self-interest economic elites have in propagandizing their policy preferences to the public, particularly to voters. More covertly, especially when the policy status quo is already in corporate American’s favor, there is a strong incentive to distract the general public so they won’t disrupt the status quo through the voting booth.

Migrant caravans. A #MeToo take down of another media executive. Fake news. Shadow banning on Twitter. What does Melania’s jacket say again? Russia. Russia. Russia. Stormy Daniels.

The con is that we are fighting our political battles over issues that pale in importance to issues such as military spending, an inefficient and costly health care system, or keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent.

But hasn’t health care been one of the biggest election issues over the past 10 years?

Yes, and it resulted in Congress passing Obamacare in 2009 (along strict party lines), but even its most ardent supporters recognized the program’s flaws and uncertainties would make it vulnerable to dismemberment should the GOP take back control of the government (which they did in 2016— though they failed to subsequently repeal Obamacare!).

What defines Obamacare as much as anything is that it doesn’t substantively address the many of the problems in the current employer-based health care system, while it protected pharmaceutical companies from genuine price competition, and did little to reduce the administrative costs generated by private health insurance companies.

Obamacare is the type of health care reform you create if you want to protect the vested interests that dominate the U.S. health care system: pharmaceutical companies, health insurance providers, physicians, hospitals and the government.

Don’t ever forget this fact — Obamacare was originally a Republican idea.

Why did the Democrats fail to truly reform the U.S. health care system when they had the chance in 2009? Because they really didn’t want to reform it. Obamacare focused on the margins where it could have an impact on the uninsured. For the rest of the health care system, Obamacare’s impact has been minimal.

It is not hyperbole to suggest that establishment Democrats are heavily influenced by their big campaign donors from the health care industry.

In that regard, it is disheartening to look at the biggest U.S. Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money during the current election cycle. Of the Top 20 recipients, 13 are Democrats (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Top 20 Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money (2018 election cycle).

Source: OpenSecrets.org

Despite what our good-spirited Republican Representative Steve King (New York) calls the ‘greatest health care system in the world,’ the U.S. health care system is inefficient, too costly, and produces inferior health outcomes. We don’t even have the best health care system on the North American continent.

Unfortunately, recent history offers no evidence that voting for Democrats will do anything to change that fact.

But that is exactly why the partisan divide con is so corrosive — because voters actually believe there is a significant difference between establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans on health care. There is not.

It is not just health care system where the status quo has become so entrenched that it is now nearly impossible to reform.

Where Bill Clinton gave us the concept of the never-ending campaign, George W. Bush and Barack Obama gave us the never-ending wars. Demonstrating in retrospect a certain degree of moderation when compared to his successor, George W. Bush kept our number of military ground wars and occupations down to two (Iraq and Afghanistan). Ah, those were the days.

Obama, on the other hand, jacked that up to seven (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan) and Trump would clearly love to add Iran and Venezuela to that list.

The Obama administration’s lust for bombing Muslims, while feigning its commitment to peace, is a deadly example of how the partisan divide conworks: (1) Convince Americans of your party’s virtue (and the opposition party’s lack thereof), (2) enlist your media allies to promote this false posture, and (3) sit back and wait for the votes to roll in (and possibly even win a Nobel Peace Prize along the way).

I’m not even singling out Obama here. The same outcome would have happened had Hillary or John or Mitt been president. When it comes to war, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore who sits in the White House — which, of course, is why the partisan divide con is so important to status quo elites. There are no consequences anymore for bad policy outcomes since they can be drowned out in a sea of partisan rancor and recriminations.

The good news, therefore, is that when you go into the voting booth on Tuesday, your vote will not carry the burden of deciding whether this country will continue its never-ending war policy. That policy is already established and locked down. I mean, if killing 40 Yemeni children on a bus field trip is not enough to get the U.S. to stop its involvement in the Saudi/UAE war on Yemen, nothing will.

Bipartisanship can be both good and bad

Bipartisanship is a double-edged sword. It is obviously helpful during the legislative stage when garnering votes is critical to a bill’s passage. It’s also important to a program’s survival once it is in place. Without bipartisan support at the start, a yo-yo effect can occur where a program is repealed or weakened once the opposition party takes over control of Congress and the presidency, only to come back again when the other party regains control once more (think: Obamacare).

The downside to bipartisanship is that it can be used to preserve the status quo at times when change is most needed. In other words, bipartisanship can make the system less responsive, particularly when the consensus reinforces or promotes the interests of power elites (think: defense spending).

This is a lesson for climate change activists who are calling for the fundamental reorganization of the energy economy. By failing to build a broad, bipartisan coalition they all but ensure any climate change legislation that does pass, assuming the Democrats take control of Congress next week, won’t survive should the Republicans subsequently return to power.

The frequent cry heard among strong partisans, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that they’d love to more bipartisanship in government, but it’s the intransigence of the other side that prevents it.

That simply isn’t true. As this essay has identified, the overwhelming majority of federal spending today is supported by a bipartisanship consensus. Apparently, Republicans and Democrats can get along too. And they’ve being doing for a long time, all the way up to today.

Here is what an enduring bipartisanship consensus looks like when viewed from the public opinion perspective. Figure 5 shows levels of public support for cutting Social Security and Figure 6 shows such levels for cutting national defense. As the charts show, since the mid-1980s, public support for cutting Social Security has never exceeded 20 percent, regardless of party identification. This is why cutting Social Security is the third rail of national politics.

Figure 5. Public support for cutting national spending on Social Security.

Figure 6. Public support for cutting national spending on national defense.

Defense spending is somewhat more complicated. Since the 1970s, Democrats exceeded 50 percent support for defense spending cuts during the Iraq War in the mid-2000s and came close to that level during the Reagan administration. Nonetheless, as a whole, a majority of the American public has never exceeded 45 percent in desiring cuts to defense spending. It is safe to say, large cuts to defense spending are not going to occur anytime soon.

Being aware of the partisan divide con is the first step to immunity

The partisan divide con is engineered to make Americans believe they are being offered substantive choices when they go into the voting booth.

Americans are not.

Unfortunately, in addition to a political establishment that has mastered the art of the irrelevant policy difference to ensure their own re-election, the news media has also learned how to profit from emphasizing partisan policy differences on status-quo-friendly issues.

And those that profit most from the status quo — economic elites — are more than happy to let Americans believe a migrant caravan out of Honduras is the most important issue facing Americans today.

It is not.

  • K.R.K.

Did Megyn Kelly sabotage her NBC morning show to get back to prime-time?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; October 28, 2018)

Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC because she was an unapologetic conservative on a network at war with conservatives, at least the Trump variety. That’s my opinion, at least.

But few in the media explain her firing that way.

NBC cited Megyn Kelly’s insensitive ‘blackface’ comments as the proximate cause of their ending the network’s relationship with the mercurial TV host. The New York media critics were quick to reference Kelly’s mediocre TV ratings as the more substantive factor. And still other media snarks suggest Kelly’s dishonest attempt to pose as an ‘apolitical’ morning show personality was doomed from the start.

“The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” Kelly told the audienceon her NBC morning show’s first day.

Initially, the TV ratings for Megyn Kelly Today were underwhelming — certainly not what corporate NBC expected when it signed Kelly to a 3-year, $69 million contract.

“[NBC News Chairman] Andrew Lack made the mistake with Megyn Kelly [from the beginning] with the decision to hire her to an anachronistic celebrity contract in the mistaken belief that star quality could turn into ratings gold,” said Andrew Tyndall , a television news analyst and consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.

When Kelly impolitely asked Jane Fonda about her extensive history with plastic surgery, the critics were quick to jump on Kelly’s weak celebrity-interview skills. Even Fonda’s surgery-mutilated face had enough elasticity left to show her disgust with Kelly’s ‘inappropriate’ line of questioning.

The awkward Fonda interview was great television, even if there wasn’t much of a home audience to see it.

Month’s later, in response to Fonda’s continued complaints about how she was treated on Megyn Kelly Today, Kelly’s petulant response to Fonda’s complaints revealed the real story.

“If Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women’s cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore,” opened Kelly’s rejoinder. “When she came here, however, again to promote her film about aging, I was supposed to discern that this subject was suddenly off-limits.”

Then the conservative, flame-throwing Kelly re-emerged from hyper-sleep:

“I have no regrets about that question nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not a appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War; many of our veterans GIs called her Hanoi Jane thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture. But not for the rest of it, by the way. She still says she is not proud of America.”

The real Megyn Kelly was destined to be fired by NBC

Kelly, whose demeanor during interviews can change from breezy to combative as quickly as she tilts her head, is a master-class practitioner of the ambush interview: let the guest talk at first; once they’ve burned through their prepared talking points, ask a loaded question; get the interviewee off-balance; and spend the rest of the interview hammering on a small set of conservative talking points while taunting and pestering the guest into oblivion. While the technique rarely enlightens audience, it often makes for great (though sometimes too cringe-inducing to watch) television.

Kelly’s Fox News interview with Malik Shabazz, National President for Black Lawyers for Justice, during the 2016 Republican Convention is a textbook example of her interviewing style:

Source: Fox News Channel

As Shabazz explained his views on racial bias in the country’s criminal justice system, Kelly offered this follow-up question: “Do you believe white people are inherently evil?”

In vain, he tried to redirect the conversation back to systemic racial bias, only to have her cut him off again with this prosecutorial gem of a question: “Do you use the term cracker to refer to white people?”

Exhausted by that point, Shabazz accused Kelly of deviating from the subject matter, prompting her to say, “No, I want the audience to know what you stand for?”

No, Megyn, you really didn’t want your audience to understand what this man stood for — had that been your motivation, your approach to the interview would have been entirely different. Your goal was to embarrass and shame him in your pursuit of entertaining the Fox News audience.

And you know what? Interviews like the one with Shabazz is what made Kelly the household name she became on Fox News. That is why NBC paid her $69 million to bring her act to their network.

In the right context, she is worth that kind of money.

Her ambush interviews made her rich and famous — her peers in the business were few. She could make Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly squirm when she threw her head-tilt-with-stink-eye-glare in their direction — and towards the end of her tenure at Fox News, she did that a lot.

But, of course, presumably NBC was hoping Kelly would leave the ‘conservative’ stuff back at Fox News. After all, she had just become public enemy number one among Donald Trump supporters for her sharp-tongued presidential debate question directed at the candidate regarding his past verbal abuse of women. As NBC signed her up for three years, she seemed genuinely unleashed from the ideological shackles imposed by the Fox News system.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any honeymoon period between Kelly and NBC. Her short-lived Sunday evening news program died as quickly as it was thrown together. Even a Vladimir Putin interview failed to generate ratings.

By the time Megyn Kelly Today was launched in September 2017, there were already industry rumors that she was over-bearing, aloof and roundly disliked by her NBC colleagues. Her latest book, after all, was titled Settle for More. In it, she basically admitted she can be a b*tch to work with and doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s fragile egos.

Its not like Kelly was hiding her personality traits from the NBC senior brass. They got exactly the person they thought they were getting — but they did believe the ‘conservative’ Kelly would be replaced by something more…centrist, even a little bit liberal.

Boy, were they wrong.

Kelly was only a few weeks into her morning show when she could barely stomach the cast of Will & Grace as they promoted their show’s pointless relaunch. Kelly was no phony that day. She didn’t care for the show to begin with and wasn’t going to sit there and mindlessly enable its comeback. Kelly oozed contempt and the Will & Grace cast did not appreciate it.

The Jane Fonda brouhaha would soon follow and the network by then was already leaking stories to the entertainment press that Kelly’s show was failing.

“Bad ratings.” “Her personality doesn’t work well with the morning audiences.” “Her talent doesn’t match her ego.”

The truth?

Most new shows struggle with ratings at the onset. While Kelly was a big name in prime-time cable TV news, her fame did not necessarily follow her to weekday mornings. She would have to earn those viewers, as she did at Fox News.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly’s ratings were down 18 percent from what that hour pulled for NBC a year earlier, and down 28 percent among viewers aged 25–54, the most coveted morning show demographic.

Adding to the ratings decline was the difficulty Kelly’s show had in booking A-list guests, particularly after she infuriated Fonda, who was more than happy to use her fame and industry clout to scare away other celebrities from appearing on Megyn Kelly Today.

Yes, Kelly’s show was struggling for ratings.

“It averaged about 2.4 million viewers a day, while its direct competitor, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, leads the time slot with 3 million,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. “Kelly’s show also was off 400,000 viewers from the (cheaper) show it replaced.”

That is normally a formula for a show’s cancellation.

However, networks actually care more about the ad dollars from a show, not necessarily its audience ratings. And, in that regard, Megyn Kelly Today was not failing at all. According to the ad spending tracker service, Kantar Group, in the first six months of 2018, Kelly’s show earned $65.8 million in advertising — a 26 percent increase over the year-earlier period, when that hour was hosted by NBC Today Show veterans Tamron Hall, Al Roker, Willie Geist, and Natalie Morales.

It is unlikely audience ratings alone are behind NBC and Kelly parting company.

So, was it really Kelly’s insensitive remarks about racism and blackfaceHalloween costumes that led to her demise?

Here is the exact quote of what Kelly said on her show about racism and blackface costumes:

“But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

For the record, the 47-year-old Kelly grew up in DeWitt and Albany, New York. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that blackface Halloween costumes were prevalent or tolerated in upstate New York in the 1970s. But, if Kelly says so, I’ll take her at her word.

Nonetheless, while Kelly’s blackface observation was ill-considered and mildly insensitive, it was hardly a firing offense. Much, much more was behind her firing than that off-the-cuff remark — a remark I would sooner believe she premeditatedly planned in order to get herself fired.

When viewed in the show’s full context, Kelly’s ‘blackface’ comment didn’t fit well in the panel discussion. It was a needless remark and begged the question, “Why say that?” In fact, it felt almost rehearsed, as if she knew the comment would be provocative and she was waiting for the right moment to launch it.

And why would she do that? Conservative Megyn Kelly was miserable at NBC. She knew she had made a bad career move — which is probably why she fired her agent immediately after being dumped by NBC — and most likely wants to get back to prime-time news where her skills are still valued.

Arguing against my assertion that Kelly pre-planned the ‘blackface’ comment to expedite her own firing is her on-air apology the next day. Her eyes were puffy. She looked like emotionally drained. She didn’t look or sound like someone about to receive a generous golden parachute and the freedom to move on to something much, much better.

“I was wrong and I am sorry,” she pleaded to her studio audience.

It was her brand’s lowest moment ever.

For those of us that have watched Megyn Kelly Today on a daily, weekday basis, her show’s tone became darker and more openly conservative in the last few months. The show was still nothing like her Fox News program, but she began to incorporate her courtroom law experience more often into the show.

She was more combative, included more newsy content, and was becoming more like the Megyn Kelly from her Fox News days.

In the past year, Kelly has interviewed a man falsely accused of rape (which was a direct attack on the #MeToo movement), highlighted the unfair physical advantage transgender athletes often possess when they are allowed to participate in girls high school sports, and unceremoniously pounded anti-Trump actor Tom Arnold into dust for his alleged stalking of The Apprenticeproducer Mark Burnett.

The Fox News Kelly is now back, but what should be her next move?

Possible landing spots for Megyn Kelly

There are three likely landing spots for Kelly: (1) Fox News, (2) CRTV, and (3) The Blaze.

Though one should never say never, it is highly improbably that Kelly would return to the network that made her famous. She tried not to burn bridges on her exit from Fox, but anytime a move like that is made, feelings will get bruised. Furthermore, the current Fox News prime-time lineup does not have an obvious weak link.

If Kelly were to replace Tucker Carlson, who is extremely popular among Fox News staff and executives, a mutiny might materialize. As for her replacing Laura Ingraham, that also seems unlikely. For one, Ingraham always seems one annoyance away from becoming an active shooter. If Kelly were to replace her, Ingraham would not go down quietly. Second, Ingraham’s later time slot would not be attractive to Kelly, who would prefer Hannity’s 9pm slot. And Hannity is still the big cheese at the network. The Israelis and Palestinians will agree to peace before Hannity and Kelly ever do.

Fox News is a bad fit.

Instead, Kelly might consider CRTV, a conservative media outlet founded by Mark Levin. But, again, there is a lot of bad blood between Kelly and Levin, particularly after her open hostility to Trump during the 2016 election. And their feud goes back even farther than that (see video below).

In contrast, The Blaze, a conservative-leaning network founded by Glenn Beck, may offer Kelly the best chance to start with a clean slate. Beck, in fact, has been openly and aggressively supportive of Kelly during the blackface controversy and it is well-known that Beck is looking for prime-time talent to lift his network’s TV service.

Beck is a measured speaker not prone to random thoughts. If he were trying to attract Kelly to his network, the first thing he would do is heap praise upon her from his broadcast pulpit.

Of course, The Blaze cannot pay Kelly anything close to NBC’s $69 million. But what the network can do is offer her an ownership share and total control over the network’s prime-time lineup.

Today, The Steve Deace Show sits in the most coveted weekday, prime time slot on The Blaze. A fellow Iowan, Steve Deace is smart and entertaining, but his show is re-purposed radio, not prime time quality.

To hire Kelly would be a bold move on Beck’s part and a risky one for Kelly, but she deserves to back on prime-time and The Blaze may be the best fit given Kelly’s past history with other conservative networks.

The political Megyn Kelly is coming back — and when she arrives— the prime-time cable news landscape will be more interesting for it.

-K.R.K.

Democrats, stop letting Trump get inside your head

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 17, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

As we all watched Elizabeth Warren’s presidential hopes spiral into the ground this week, I realized the Democrats need that one friend or family member that can tap them on the back of the head and tell them, “Snap out of it!”

Senator Warren let Donald Trump burrow so deep into her head, she lost all neural pathways dedicated to common sense. He eats at her very soul, day and night. How else can we explain why she would release DNA results confirming she was 99.9 percent white and has less Native American DNA than the average American? [Most whites are, on average, 0.18 percent Native American, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.]

Of course, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Daily Beast immediately declared Warren the victor in her dispute with Trump over her “Native American” heritage.

That narrative lasted about 10 minutes.

Facts be damned, The Nation’s Joan Walsh couldn’t hold back her righteous joy over Warren’s DNA test: “Warren is showing Democrats — and the media — that she knows how to fight. She won’t let Trump define her as either a faux Native American, an Ivy League elitist, or a liar.” You are right, Joan. Elizabeth Warren can do that all on her own.

During her academic career, it is indisputable that Warren (actively or passively) allowed others to categorize her as a ‘woman of color.’ Her vulgar use of identity politics rightfully marks the end of her viability as a national political figure.

Warren was never going to win the nomination anyway (It’s Kamala Harris’ nomination to lose unless someone more charismatic emerges or Bernie Sanders decides to run again).

It is premature, however, to think Warren’s public blunder marks the end of identify politics. The Democrats have hard-coded that strategy into their political DNA and, at this point, it would take an extraterrestrial intervention to reprogram them.

But there is something Democrats can learn from Warren: Let go of the Trump obsession. It is now starting to hurt the party. Do they need Max von Sydow standing over them saying, “The power of common sense compels you!”

The obsession may have served a purpose early in the Trump administration in that it reminded Democrats they weren’t suffering through this presidency alone. Semi-contained insanity serves a purpose when it feels like all hope is lost — the pussy hats were even fun.

But all hope is not lost anymore. Short of a GOP Hail Mary in the next few weeks, the Democrats will gain about 35 U.S. House seats in the upcoming election (and my prediction model also says the Democrats will take the U.S. Senate — though that is looking iffy).

Now, the Democrats need to project an image to Americans — left, center and right — that they are prepared to lead this country. Get off the streets, put down the Saul Alinsky rebel handbook and try to look like serious people again.

Pounding on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court (doors, by the way, the Supreme Court justices never use; so who were they were yelling at?) or chasing U.S. Senators and their wives out of restaurants is not a comforting image to most Americans.

What did the Vietnam Anti-War protests give this country? Two Richard Nixon presidential election victories — and one was a landslide.

Source: Katrina Pierson

Believe it or not, voters generally do not like to see politicians and their supporters display excessive amounts of emotion or employ even minor levels of violence. Too much passion actually scares them away.

Instead, Democrats need to look serious again. Even boring.

To Bernie Sanders’ credit, his unwavering commitment to policy ideas (whether practical or not) keeps him out of the mud swamp where Donald Trump loves to conduct official business. It is why he is viewed as honest, not just by Democrats, but by Republicans and independents. He believes what he says and doesn’t parse his language to fit an audience.

Sanders does frequently mention Trump, but almost always in the context of a policy disagreement. He does not demean himself by resorting to name-calling. I only wish other Democrats took his lead more often (some, like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, do — but most don’t).

And, finally, enough with the negative, hyperbolic rhetoric about how bad things are in this country.

“In these tumultuous times…” started my local NPR station host this morning as he announced another membership fund drive.

What?! What is he talking about? What is his metric?

Economic prosperity? This country has never been wealthier. Incidents of sexual assault and harassment against women? Twenty years ago a president abused his status to get a blowjob from an intern and two-thirds of the country said, ‘Who gives a cr*p?” Today, thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, this country is significantly more evolved — though still far from perfect.

Is Russiagate weighing heavily on your mood? Well, don’t wait for Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation to lift your spirits. It is almost two years now — half of an administration’s term. If Trump is a Russian tool and it takes this long to make an indictment? Thanks for nothing, Bob, the damage is already done. Go back to your retirement.

There are plenty of good reasons to oppose Donald Trump and the GOP — and none of them involve mentioning the Russians. The Democrats don’t need to wallow in the gutter with Trump to make their case.

Here are a few ideas:

Why does this country still spend twice as much as Canadians and Europeans on health care and, yet, experience inferior health outcomes? Is it perhaps time for the Democrats to genuinely challenge the iron triangle formed by lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and physicians?

Is it possible to control the U.S. border and still treat refugees with the same decency and humanity we treat our own citizens? [Um, this country may have a bigger problem than immigration to work on.]

How about oppose a foreign policy that is now farmed out to Moscow, Jerusalem and Riyadh (oops, I mentioned Russia). In the long-turn, that is guaranteed to end poorly for the U.S.

And why must this country’s military continue to engage in these endless cleanup operations all over the world that, in truth, are limited footprint, low-optempo wars? Where has Congress and the Democratic leadership been during all of this?

And, specifically, where is the Democratic Party’s leadership on ending U.S. support to the Saudis and Emirates as those countries continue to commit war crimes against the Houthi in Yemen? Nancy Pelosi? Silent. Chuck Schumer? Silent. Cory Booker? Silent. Kamala Harris? Silent. Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton? Probably best they stay silent given their culpability in what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis right now.

In a moment a childlike innocence, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer explained why the U.S. continues its support of the Saudis and Emirates: It’s good for business. I will cut Blitzer, the Brick Tamland of cable TV news, some slack. But when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the same thing, it warrants more than one or two Democrats taking a stand against this cynical misuse of American military power. [Thank God for Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and the GOP’s Rand Paul for making their opposition visible.]

So there are just a few ideas the Democrats might want to talk about Democrats between now and the 2020 election.

What voters don’t need is a continuation of the Democratic Party’s two-year-long pity party over the 2016 election.

It might work long enough to help the Democrats win back the House, but its a losing strategy for the 2020 election.

  • K.R.K.

 

What I learned from watching “Cornerstore Caroline”

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 16, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

If you haven’t heard the story yet about Teresa Sue Klein (aka ‘Cornerstore’ Caroline,’ here is the basic rundown:

Last week, as a nine-year-old African-American boy and his mother were exiting a crowded Brooklyn bodega, the boy’s backpack accidentally brushed against the backside of another store patron, Teresa Sue Klein, 53, who was bent oddly over a store counter. A surveillance video from the store clearly showed the physical encounter was accidental.

However, after a verbal exchange between Klein and the boy’s mother, Klein called the police and said the child of “grabbed her ass.”’ When Klein eventually saw the surveillance video, she realized she was not sexually assaulted and (indirectly) apologized to the child through a local TV news station.

But the damage had been done. An innocent child was needlessly traumatized, crying loudly as his mother exchanged unpleasantries with Klein. As for Klein, apparently this was not the first time she had engaged in a hostile confrontation with her Brooklyn neighbors.

End of story.

Source: NBC News

Most of the national media covered this event as a white person calling the police on a black person for no good reason-story, as it fits a popular narrative among media elites that the U.S. is teeming with white racists who are the primary cause of the sociopolitical strife found in our nation today.

“Another day, another racist,” was DailyKos writer Jessica Sutherland’ssummary of the event.

#WearingABackpackWhileBlack was trending on Twitter for most of the day.

And while a race dynamic may be present in the ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ story, there is another facet to the story receiving less attention and is, perhaps, the more salient lesson from this minor, mostly irrelevant, ado.

Source: Daily Mail

Reporters from the New York Post interviewed Klein shortly after the incident and gained some additional background information about Klein. She described herself as an “unemployed feminist and humanist” who was also a practicing Buddhist that occasionally “lets her temper show.”

Originally from Missouri, Klein had recently attended the University of Missouri to complete her PhD in biochemistry. She also has been a “performer” and actor at various times.

Her background isn’t that different from my wife’s — a highly-educated, spiritual woman with a sharp temper.

All good. Except for this fact — Klein’s impulsive decision to accuse a child of sexually assaulting her after what objectively could only be described as minor bodily contact.

Thank God there was a surveillance video to corroborate the child’s defense.

Imagine if there had not been a surveillance video and, instead of a nine-year-old boy, it was a 21-year-old African-American man standing accused of sexual assault. It is not absurd to suggest he might have been booked on a sexual assault charge that day.

Klein’s repeated appeal to the police that she “was just sexually assaulted by a child” cannot be dismissed as a local neighbor squabble. As she’s a Buddhist-feminist-humanist (with a temper), I can’t help but suspect Klein probably drowns herself each night in the current #MeToo zeitgeist. The charge of ‘sexual assault’ flew too easily off her tongue. Her unconstrained outrage crackled as she pointed her finger at nine-year-old boy, traumatized over something he didn’t do. As I watched the store’s surveillance video, I was disappointed Klein didn’t turn the tirade into a broader attack on white male privilege. I know she wanted to.

In all fairness, I’m projecting at this point, but its hard not to conjecture. As I said, Klein is familiar to me. I married a militant couch-feminist who effortlessly regresses into pop-feminist philippics about patriarchies, social privilege and institutional bias as we watch old Star Trek episodes.

As for ‘Cornerstore Caroline,’ my wife contends she’s an extreme outlier. There are too many incentives discouraging such behavior, she says.

A few years ago, I would have agreed with her. Today, I’m not so sure. Particularly after a recent sermon we heard at our Unitarian Church where the minister openly declared supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “the enemy” (though she didn’t say his name directly, it was obvious in the context).

A Unitarian minister used the pulpit to share with parishioners her enemies list!

What happened to the days of vegetarian Chili cook-offs and Buddhist drum circles? Are we going to learn about the ABCs of doxing in next Sunday’s sermon?

As obscene as the minister’s words were to my ear (my wife enjoyed watching me get triggered), it wasn’t as offensive as Hillary Clinton declaring civility only returns when the Democrats are back in power? Has everyone in the Democratic Party, save for Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon and Tulsi Gabbard, gone totally loopy?

Still, independent of my recent disillusionment with my church, it is possible Klein is an extreme outlier and that very few women (as in none) would willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position, either on the streets of Brooklyn or in a Senate confirmation hearing. Public scorn and ridicule are a powerful deterrent to making false accusations. Its what keeps me in line.

However, initially in Klein’s mind, she didn’t make a false accusation. She believed she was sexually assaulted (minor as it was) and had no qualms about letting the police, and anyone within earshot, know about it.

If not for the surveillance tape, Klein would have passed a lie detector test with ease. She believed her ass was grabbed by a nine-year-old boy…except it wasn’t.

Klein’s account of the alleged assault was grossly inaccurate at time t-minus-zero. Forget about issues of long-term memory decay or dynamic recall bias, human’s are gloriously capable of screwing up recollections of even simple events in the present.

This is why physical evidence is so critical in criminal trials and why empirical evidence trumps (no pun intended) even the most elegant and elaborate theories (Remember String Theory? Total crap.). Humans need data to make good judgments. Trust but verify. We should always listen to people — that is just good manners — but believing them requires more than just their word.

Let us hope ‘Cornerstore Caroline’ is an extreme outlier, but use her as a reminder of our need for evidence as we go about our everyday lives.

-K.R.K.

The Coming Climate Change War

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 12, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

Current global warming is real, it is man-made, and its consequences will be profoundly negative over time. The significant loss of polar ice, damage to the coral reefs, increased flooding along coastlines and other waterways, more frequent heatwaves, and an increased risk of forest fires are among the most likely consequences as the earth continues to warm.

Theory and empirical data support these predictions, unequivocally.

That reality, however, is being cynically weaponized by an unqualified chattering class that seeks partisan advantage, even at the risk of war.

Reactions to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change exemplify this problem…

“The impact of human-induced warming is worse than previously feared, the IPCC report released Monday says, and only drastic coordinated action will keep the damage short of catastrophe,” warns Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

“Food shortages and wildfires will get worse, coral reefs will die off and sea levels will rise by feet rather than inches in our lifetimes if too little is done,” writes The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. “It’s the epic battle of our age. Every nation, every major corporation — all of us — must work to win it.”

Replace the term ‘human-induced warming’ with ‘terrorism’ or ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and its the kind of rhetoric you hear right before the bombs start dropping. The president’s national security advisers would already have a prioritized list of ‘rogue’ countries to attack and would be feeding the national media the necessary propaganda to build public support for such attacks.

But Robinson and The Sun-Times are talking about climate change, and their latest hair-on-fire rant on a topic where their knowledge is superficial is just another futile attempt to shock the American people into believing the human race is facing an existential crisis like no other in history. Soon the environmental lobby will be using Shriners Hospital kids to make their pleas.

The urgency of climate change is hard to sell to the American people — and for good reason. Though a majority of Americans believe in global warming is human-induced, most are still not willing to make a major financial sacrifice to address the problem. Politicians would have an easier time selling the additional tax burden of ‘Medicare-for-All’ than a carbon tax or ‘tax and ‘trade’ system to accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels.

According to the IPCC’s own economic analysis, for every year through 2050, it will cost the world between $1.6 trillion and $3.8 trillion in “energy system supply-side investments” to possibly keep future global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That could end up costing the world $122 trillion by 2050…or as little as $51 trillion.

The IPCC harms the global warming cause when they float cost analysis nonsense like: $122 trillion by 2050. Economists are already calling the IPCC cost estimate preposterous. Yet, the climate change lobby thinks those mammoth cost numbers will spur people into action on the problem. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Basic human psychology leads people to tune out such large, abstract numbers. It becomes Monopoly money.

If people are to fund a multi-trillion dollar, global effort to combat climate change, they will need specific estimates about how it will impact their household finances. And they’ll want to know how the money will be used and who will be making the decisions about where it goes. Some will ask, ‘Why are Midwest taxpayers forced to subsidize those who choose to build homes along coastlines in hurricane zones or in dry, heavily forested areas of California?’ And imagine the fraud and abuse that will inevitably occur should the governments around the world get an extra $122 trillion to squander.

Given the options, it is hard to blame someone if they decide to take their chances with global warming.

Let us assume the IPCC cost estimate is accurate. No democratically-elected government would survive raising taxes as much as $49 per gallon gas tax by 2030. Ergo, no government will raise taxes anywhere close to that number, which means the Paris Climate Accord goal to keep anomalous global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius is as good as dead. To limit the warming to 2 degrees Celsius, however, the IPCC estimates a $1.70 per gallon gas tax by 2030 is necessary — that number at least has a puncher’s chance of earning voter approval.

Putting the cost estimates aside, the latest IPCC report is trying to convince us that climate change poses an existential threat to the human race and its negative impact is happening now, is happening faster than expected, and will only get worse. In the IPCC’s view, doing nothing (or ‘muddling through’) is not an option (Truth: Muddling through is always an option). That is why the Paris Climate Accord was so important to the activist community. The primary accomplishment of the Accord, over even the specific country-level goals, was to get every country in the world to sign on to the notion that everyone must do their part. The Paris Climate Accord was good politics and wrongfully dismissed by climate change skeptics.

However, experience tells us that some countries will pursue a zero-carbon economy more vigorously than others. And some countries will be outright freeloaders, continuing to rely on fossil fuels for domestic energy production or as a major export commodity. Try to convince Russia that open Arctic sea lanes in the summer represent a global “crisis” or U.S. Midwest farmers that longer growing seasons are a threat to humanity.

They will never buy what the climate change activists are selling.

But, should the climate change lobby gain access to a new tax revenue stream, they WILL find ways to expand the tax. Give lobbyists the chance and they will pump money out of your paycheck faster than Aramco pumps crude out of the Saudi desert.

Besides, once a government convinces its people about the necessity of a surtax or some other new revenue stream, the lobbyists make sure the problem never goes away.

The Free-rider Problem

In the near-term, there are large segments of the world population that benefit from global warming (for example, people spend more on entertainment when the weather is warmer).

That reality escapes most climate change activists, but if they expect the average citizen to give up a significant portion of their incomes to solve the global warming problem, they will need to understand Who wins? and Who loses? in the battle against climate change.

When the IPCC throws out financial numbers in the tens of trillions of dollars, there will be industries and countries that stand to gain (or lose) a lot of money from combating climate change. It will be one of history’s largest transfers of wealth — most likely, from the advanced industrialized economies (e.g., U.S., Europe, Japan, etc.) to the developing world. So, don’t act surprised if the Kremlin draws a clear line in the sand over the limits of what Russia is willing to sacrifice over climate change. And don’t be surprised if that means using their military power to protect their interests.

And all of this begs the questions: Is it possible the human race could spend tens of trillions of dollars to fight global warming and still not appreciably slow it down? Or might we engage in a geoengineering project to slow global warming — such as creating more clouds — and end up doing more damage to the planet?

Despite the Paris Climate Accord, not all countries are going jump on board this climate change bandwagon with the same levels of fellowship and cooperation as the Germans or French.

If Malawi or Trinidad and Tobago decide not to participate in the worldwide decarbonization effort, it won’t have a major impact. But if the country is Indonesia, currently the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China, the likelihood of meeting the Paris Accord goals are jeopardized.

Despite being a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, Indonesia continues to develop peatland forest areas, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and remains the world’s second largest exporter of coal and lignite, behind only Australia.

This September 8, 2013, photograph shows an access road being constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The destruction has led to the release of vast amounts of climate change-causing carbon dioxide. Indonesia is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

Domestic energy generation remains very carbon intensive in Indonesia and other Southeast Asia countries (see Figure 1). According to the energy consulting firm Enerdata: “The share of coal in the region’s power mix will remain stable through 2050 at current levels: approximately 35% of total generation. Wind and solar combined will account for 15% of the total power generation in 2050, from almost 0% today. Meanwhile, gas-fired generation will drop from about 40% in 2017 to 22% in 2050.”

Figure 1: Energy Generation by Source in Southeast Asia

                                                          Source: Enerdata.net

As long as coal is cheap and available in Southeast Asia, it will be widely used to address the region’s growing electricity needs.

Unfortunately, that poses a problem for meeting the IPCC’s 2030 deadline for decreasing net human-caused emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels. Though Southeast Asia accounts for only 3.4 percent of the world economy and about 9 percent of the world’s population (~650 million people), the region emits about 40 percent as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as the European Union.

U.S. and European efforts alone are not enough to address global warming. That should be obvious.

Climate change is a collective action problem and the U.S. and Europe are dependent on other countries to do their part — countries that in some cases are already hostile to Western interests in general.

Are the U.S. and Europe going to carry the burden on implementing climate change solutions and passively let Indonesia or Brazil or India or any other large greenhouse gas emitter shirk their obligations?

Probably not.

But what exactly can the U.S. and Europe do to ensure climate policy compliance across the globe?

In the past, the U.S. has used its military to protect vital interests

Some analysts argue the U.S. military has already engaged in its first climate change-influenced conflict: The Syrian Civil War. The argument goes like this: Global warming exacerbated an extreme drought experienced within Syria prior to its civil war; which led to large-scale internal migration; and this migration contributed to the the socio-economic stresses that were the proximal cause of the Syrian Civil War.

As compelling as the argument may be to climate change activists, the empirical data supporting such a view of the Syrian Civil War does not hold up to scrutiny, according to a group of American, British and German researchers.

Regardless, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) at present sees climate change as a threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today — from infectious disease to terrorism.” In the DoD’s opinion, climate change will instigate resource shortages for human necessities such as water and other basic foodstuffs that will, in turn, increase social instability and the likelihood of ‘resource’ wars.

In its 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, DoD planners see climate change most likely impacting U.S. humanitarian and peacekeeping requirements abroad, as well as threatening military training facilities at home and overseas through more intense natural disasters. Specifically, DoD considers rising sea levels, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures as the primary threats to U.S. military personnel and readiness posed by climate change.

“We must also work with other nations to share tools for assessing and managing climate change impacts, and help build their capacity to respond,” writes then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the 2014 Roadmap. “Climate change is a global problem. Its impacts do not respect national borders. No nation can deal with it alone. We must work together, building joint capabilities to deal with these emerging threats.”

Since the publication of the 2014 Roadmap, its most tangible results have been: (1) transitioning as much of DoD’s energy needs as possible to renewable sources, and (2) adapting U.S. military installations worldwide to the most likely weather-related threats associated with climate change.

The problem with climate change, however, is that the U.S. is dependent on other countries to also reduce carbon emissions on a worldwide scale. If only the advanced economies significantly reduce emissions, while other large developing countries such as India, China and Indonesia continue to burn fossil fuels, the U.S. and European efforts will be for naught. For the world to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, every large economy must cooperate. Failing on this requirement will have dire consequences on all nations, according to the IPCC.

But what exactly can the U.S. do to impel Indonesia, for example, to abandon its coal industry or for India to stop building new coal plants?

The last three years offer a vivid example of this problem. According to British Petroleum’s data on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide between 2015 and 2017, the world’s CO2 emissions have gone up 1.8 percent (!) since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord (see Figure 2). And you can’t blame the U.S. for this increase, as its CO2 emissions have decreased 2.4 percent in the same period.

Figure 2: Change in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions since 2015

Source: British Petroleum

 

Why have U.S. CO2 emissions decreased, while in other regions of the world they have increased? Two reasons: (1) increases in renewable energy power generation and (2) an increase in the exploitation (including fracking) of natural gas reserves account for the U.S. success story.

Contrary to what is often reported in the U.S. mainstream media, the U.S. is aggressively converting to renewable energy and is on the path to a 100-percent renewable energy economy by 2055 — only five years beyond the Paris Climate Accord goals (see Figure 3 below). The U.S. is not the problem.

Figure 3: U.S. Renewable Energy Forecast for Renewables, Nuclear and Hydroelectric (Share of Total Electricity Generation)

Failure to meet the IPCC’s 2030 goals will not be because of U.S. inaction on global warming. More likely, the failure will originate from the fastest growing regions of the world — Asia and Africa.

And how should (or will) the U.S. respond to these climate change laggards?

Apart from doing nothing (an always attractive option), there are four policy options at the U.S.’s disposal when dealing with countries that are falling behind the Paris Climate Accord and IPPC goals:

(1) Engage in diplomacy that incentivizes countries to change their policies,

(2) Implement economic boycotts and trade restrictions to coerce policy change,

(3) Use covert operations to engineer coups against the leaders of climate change laggards, or

(4) simply attack or invade the laggard countries and force their conversion to renewable energy.

It may sound laughable to think the U.S. and its allies would consider military attacks, coups or invasions to force climate change policy changes, but that is exactly what the advanced industrialized countries have been doing for the past 60 years in the Middle East to protect Western energy interests.

Why should renewable energy and climate change be any different? If U.S. national security is at risk due to climate change, as reflected in official DoD policy and inferred in the most recent IPCC report, why wouldn’t military force and covert intelligence operations be included on the policy options menu?

If the IPCC is correct, failing to address climate change is an existential threat to the U.S. and all nations. In such a circumstance, it would be irresponsible for the U.S. not to consider military options with respect to climate change. If humankind is at stake, why not bomb some coal plants in Indonesia and India?

Even senior U.S. military officers are regurgitating the urgency of the IPCC position on climate change.

“Planning for the long-term implications of climate change today is as important as planning for a major Pacific conflict was in the last century,” according to U.S. Navy Commander Timothy McGeehan. “To address climate change, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Pacific Command (PaCom) in particular need a 21st-century War Plan Orange.”

War Plan Orange was a secret strategy the U.S. military had been developing since 1906 in case a war with Japan ever broke out. As we know, on December 7, 1941, a war with Japan did materialize and War Plan Orange formed the blueprint for our nation’s successful defeat of Japan.

If you believe climate change is as big a threat to U.S. strategic interests as the Japanese were in 1941, why wouldn’t you consider of using U.S. military superiority to enforce the goals set forth by the IPCC?

That argument is not as far-fetched as it sounds.

It doesn’t take much for the neoliberal and neoconservative hawks in the U.S. to justify a regime change war. Offer them the premise that war will save the planet from the ravages of global warming and you have a formula for concocting all sorts of excuses to attack Venezuela or Indonesia or Iran or Russia…and the list goes on…

With this newest IPCC report, we already see the machinations of the political and media elite preparing the American people to fight the good fight against climate change — and, yes, don’t argue with them when the federal and state governments take more and more of your income to solve a problem that’s already being solved. They will do it because they have the moral high ground and know what is best.

We are watching you Indonesia, China, Brazil, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If you are not doing your part to fight climate change, our Marines are more than happy to set you straight.

That the current climate change hysteria could lead to a hot war is not inconceivable. Is there anything about today’s Democratic Party and Never Trump Republicans that suggests they would rule out using overwhelming military superiority to promote their dearest cause?

The U.S. and international media consistently misrepresent the climate change threat, a man-made menace that is real but manageable, because accepting this doomsday premise further empowers the Davos elites who have been talking about this potential power grab for well over a decade.

Imagine what they could do with an additional $122 trillion dollars of everyone’s money. The climate change alarmists have every incentive to exaggerate its dangers and the cost of its mitigation.

Luckily, history is still on the side of climate change realists. When former Vice President Al Gore warned us in 2006 that we had only a decade left to save the planet from global warming, he was deliriously uninformed. In his words, 2016 was the point of no return.

It is 2018. The Earth is doing just fine. Humans on this Earth have never been more prosperous or safer. Perhaps Al Gore’s apocalyptic prediction has been delayed? Maybe we should still be worried that he is right?

No, Al is not right. He’s never been right on this issue. He (and the Democrats, in general) have taken a real problem — the warming of the planet due to human activity — and exploited it for political and personal gain.

They are exploiters, not leaders.

Al Gore and the climate change panic mavens need to spend more time in the science labs at MIT where they are leading the research on carbon capture and sequestration. Or how about going to China where their research and development of solar farms is on the brink of transforming how humans capture energy?

The climate change scaremongering exhibited by the mainstream media over this latest IPCC report has one unspoken goal: It is a raw power grab by political statists (mostly in the U.S. and Europe) trying to control as much of your money as they can possibly get their grubby hands on.

Don’t be fooled. Climate change is just another problem humans will ultimately solve. It is what humans do best. We solve problems — and make money in the process.

The world is moving as fast as can be expected in converting to a 100-percent renewable energy economy (see the evidence here). It will never be fast enough for environmental doomsayers, but it is fast enough to save this planet from the worst consequences of global warming. And a mix of incremental policy-making and targeted crisis spending will help the world’s nations adapt to the likely consequences of climate change. The incremental adaptive approach is not sexy and will not be as pro-active as the climate change lobby would like, but it is how the human race will address climate change.

Climate change will lead to wars fought over resources (water, arable land) and migration. And, as suggested in this essay, the climate change vanguard may even try to impose their will on some climate change free-rider nations who refuse to take orders from the West.

In the meantime here in the U.S., beware of climate change hysteria being exploited by neoliberals and neocon military hawks as a way to justify their lust for expanding the role of government or finding new ways to get the U.S. military involved in more regime change wars.

Climate change activists are the modern crusaders and they will do anything to save the planet — including spending your money to do it.

Consider yourself warned.

  • K.R.K.

Press freedom is declining worldwide

By Kent R. Kroeger (October 9, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

This essay was originally published on October 5th. Since then, a Saudi journalist has disappeared in Turkey and a Bulgarian TV journalist has been killed.

According to sources speaking to The Washington Post, the Turkish government believes Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week by a Saudi team sent specifically for the murder.” The Post’s sources offered no evidence to support their account of events.

Khashoggi, missing since October 2nd, has been an open critic of the current Saudi regime, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The humble man I knew, who disappeared from the consulate in Istanbul, saw it as his duty to stand up for ordinary Saudis,” says fellow journalist and friend of Khashoggi, David Hearst.

“Again a courageous journalist falls in the fight for truth and against corruption,” Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, said Monday in Brussels.

In the other incident, 30-year-old TV journalist Viktoria Marinova was found dead on October 6th in a park in Ruse, Bulgaria.

Marinova was a director of TVN, a TV station in Ruse, Bulgaria and a TV presenter for two investigative news programs, one of which, Detector, recently featured two investigative journalists reporting on suspected fraud involving European Union funds.

Her final TV appearance was on Sept. 30.

Though Bulgarian authorities do not know yet if there is a connection between Marinova’s death and her work as a journalist, many European journalists are concerned as she is the third journalist to be killed in Europe in the past year. The other two murdered journalists were Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.

These deaths add to a growing concern among European journalists that their profession is being targeted by power elites and criminal elements threatened by investigative journalism.

Original essay (published October 5, 2018):

In late August, an anti-immigration rally jn Chemnitz, Germany provided vivid evidence of the far right’s growing popularity, the crowd’s anger directed mainly at Chancellor Angela Merkel and her 2015 decision to allow into the country more than 1 million refugees fleeing civil war and violence in the Middle East.

In Germany, the anti-immigration sentiment has been accompanied by a rise in violence attacks on journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders(RSF), who reports “after reaching a peak of 39 attacks against journalists in 2015, this figure dropped to below 20 in 2016 and 2017.” However, in 2018, such violent attacks are already higher than in 2016 or 2017.

RSF also reports this trend is growing worldwide.

Source: ruptly.tv

According to RSF, 70 journalists, including citizen journalists and media assistants, have been killed so far in 2018, and is on pace to exceed 90 deaths by year’s end. In addition, 316 journalists are currently imprisoned, including two Reuters journalists who were recently sentenced by a Myanmar judge to seven years in prison for breaching a law on state secrets.

In comparison, 74 journalists died worldwide in 2017, and 80 died in 2016.

But RSF does more than monitor violence against journalists. Since 2002, the Paris-based group has computed the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI) for over 180 countries. RSF describes the WPFI as follows:

WHAT DOES THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX (WPFI) MEASURE?

The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country.

HOW THE WPFI IS COMPILED

The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

RSF’s 2018 report on worldwide press freedom is one of its most pessimistic.

According to the WPFI, in 2018, press freedom in 74 percent of countries is either problematicbad or very bad (see Figure 1). In 2002, the first year RSF calculated the WPFI, press freedom in only 45 percent of countries was categorized as problematicbad, or very bad.

Figure 1: Distribution of World Press Freedom Index Scores (2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders

“Hostility towards the media from political leaders is no longer limited to authoritarian countries such as Turkey (ranked 157th out of 180 countries, down two ranks from 2017) and Egypt (161st), where “media-phobia” is now so pronounced that journalists are routinely accused of terrorism and all those who don’t offer loyalty are arbitrarily imprisoned,” reports RSF. “More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.”

While citing President Donald Trump as one of the most visible culprits in verbally attacking journalists, RSF’s deepest concern is directed towards younger democracies.

“The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (ranked 133rd, down six from 2017), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination,” says RSF. “In India (down two ranks to 138th), hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay. In each of these countries, at least four journalists were gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year.”

Though physical attacks on U.S. journalists are still rare, the murder of five Maryland journalists last June being a sad exception, press freedom in the U.S. has nonetheless experienced an almost monotonic decline since 2002 (see Figures 2 and 3; high WPFI scores indicate lower levels of press freedom). Only a two-year interlude immediately before and after the 2008 presidential election saw the U.S. score significantly improve.

In 2002, the WPFI score for the U.S. was 4.75 (Rank 17th). Today, the U.S. score is 23.73 (Rank 45th). RSF’s singling out of President Trump as a causal factor in the U.S.’s press freedom decline is misplaced given that the U.S. WPFI score has been relatively flat over the past four years (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: World Press Freedom Index Score for the U.S. (2002–2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders

 

Figure 3: U.S. Rank on the WPFI (2002–2018)

Source: Reporters without Borders

And RSF is not the only monitoring organization that has found press freedom to be in decline worldwide.

“Only 14 percent of the world’s population live in societies in which there is honest coverage of civic affairs, journalists can work without fear of repression or attack, and state interference is minimal,” according to Freedom House’s Leon Willems and Arch Puddington. “Far too often today, the media present a regime account of developments in which the opposition case is ignored, distorted, or trivialized. And even in more pluralistic environments, news coverage is frequently polarized between competing factions, with no attempt at fairness or accuracy.”

The most troubling aspect of Freedom House’s finding is that even countries within the 14 percent (such as the U.S.) are witnessing an alarming rise in highly-polarized, non-objective journalism. And, in the case of the U.S., journalism is one of the least respected professions, according to the Gallup Poll.

Why has press freedom declined?

The decline in press freedom, worldwide and within the U.S., has many causal antecedents, according to RSF. In explaining the worldwide decline in press freedom in 2014–2015, RSF concluded, “Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.”

In the U.S. context, RSF’s hypotheses are plausible. Since 2002, the U.S. has engaged in two significant wars (Iraq, Afghanistan), both of which have produced mixed results (at best), has led or assisted military actions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, has experienced a significant economic crisis (2008), and has seen the rise of two large domestic protest movements against an incumbent administration (Tea Party, #Resistance).

Declining media competition may be the biggest threat to journalism

RSF and other media researchers also cite media competition as a significant factor in explaining levels of press freedom. At one extreme is state-controlled media (China, North Korea) where there is no competition and press freedom is severely or completely curtailed. On the other end are pluralistic, democratic societies where media competition is not only present, but facilitated through government policy (Scandinavian countries, Germany New Zealand, Austria).

For the U.S., the media regulatory environment fundamentally changed in 1996 with the U.S. Telecommunications Act.

“There is no doubt the 1996 U. S. Telecommunications Act fueled increasing consolidation across the communication industries. Designed to eliminate barriers to competition, the 1996 Act greatly liberalized ownership limitations for broadcasting and cable companies, allowing companies to acquire more competitors,” according to media economics researchers Alan Albarran and Bozena Mierzejewska. “For example, in the radio industry alone, some 75 different companies operating independently in 1995 were consolidated into just three companies by 2000.”

In 1983, 90 percent of US media was controlled by 50 companies. Today, according to Fortune magazine, 90 percent of U.S. media is controlled by just six companies.

Figure 4: Media concentration in the U.S.

Source: Jason of Frugal Dad

How can media consolidation be bad given that the average American has access to over 100 TV channels, not to mention the thousands of internet websites? Shouldn’t the profit-motive impel major corporations to increase the number of information and entertainment choices in order to capture as much of the audience as possible?

That is the argument The New York Time’s Jim Rutenberg made in 2002 as the media consolidation trend was hitting its stride: media mergers create more choice, not less, according to Rutenberg.

Unfortunately, the evidence is not clear at all on that contention. In fact, it appears the opposite is true. Instead of getting real choice, consumers are given the illusion of choice.

“As massive media conglomerates persevere in their quest to monopolize the industry, it is important to realize what this means for alternative viewpoints in media and the already overwhelming effort to hush voices these media giants consider outside the mainstream,” according to Rick Manning, President of Americans for Limited Government. “Differing ideas and perspectives are what make up the very fabric of this great nation, and if we’re not careful with putting too much power in the hands of too few, this could all disappear.”

And when Manning says “alternative viewpoints” he is not talking about the Traditionalist Worker Party getting its own cable TV network. He’s talking about news organizations such as Bloomberg getting squeezed out of the news and information marketplace. Manning is particularly critical of Comcast-NBCU (which owns MSNBC and CNBC).

“Since the Comcast-NBCU merger in 2011, they have proven time and time again that they are not beneath stifling competition or other viewpoints that may not line up with their own. In fact, not only are they not beneath it, there is ample evidence that points to Comcast repeatedly doing so,” contends Manning. “Take Bloomberg TV, for example. Comcast’s conditions stipulated that they place Bloomberg programming next to MSNBC and CNBC, or other competing news channels such as Fox or CNN, in the channel lineup — yet for three years Bloomberg was blocked from the news channel neighborhood and slotted in an unfavorable spot, which negatively affected their viewership.”

With respect to journalism, another potential information-biasing process occurs when large media companies control journalists’ access to audiences through the allocation of broadcast airtime or print space [Whatever happened to Dylan Ratigan and Ed Schultz on MSNBC?]. And instead of providing in-depth information and analysis, today’s news outlets, particularly the cable news networks, bludgeon Americans with lively but mostly content-sparse debate. Why? Because it is profitable. The rule for cable news is this: find your audience, reinforce what they already believe, and for God’s sake don’t make them uncomfortable. Disney, Fox, and Comcast would be delinquent in their duties to shareholders if they did otherwise.

Noam Chomsky, as he often does, offers the most damning critique of cable news: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Large media conglomerates have enormous power through a variety of effective tools to influence, modify, and censor information disseminated through the major media outlets. Only the U.S. Government wields greater power in that respect.

Here is a specific example of how The Disney Company recently attempted (and thankfully failed) to deny the Los Angeles Times access to advance screenings which are critical to the paper’s ability to do its job.

Access to credible sources is the lifeblood for any journalist. A journalist with sources is called an unemployed journalist.

So why would Disney deny the LA Times access to their advance screenings?

Case Study: Disney Bans LA Times

This is a note the Los Angeles Times offered to its readers last November:

The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.

So why was the LA Times excluded from advance screenings of Disney films during the 2017 Christmas season?

LA Times writer Glenn Whipp explained on Twitter that The Disney Companywas unhappy with the LA Times’ investigation into Disney’s questionable business ties in Anaheim, California, home of the company’s Disneyland theme park.

Apparently, the LA Times’ critical reporting on how The Disney Company‘strong-armed’ Anaheim’s local government was not well-received at Disney headquarters, prompting the company to blacklist the LA Times from interviews and advance screenings of Disney films in late 2017.

However, days after Disney banned the LA Times, other critics condemned the Disney action and compelled the company to lift its screening ban of the LA Times. Nonetheless, Disney made its point clear to entertainment journalists: Don’t cross the Mouse.

Since their late-2017 kerfuffle, Disney and the LA Times are cooperating again, but the recent approval of the Disney/Fox merger should raise an alarm for journalists. With every new Disney acquisition, its control over the information and entertainment landscape grows. With their acquisition of Fox’s entertainment properties, Disney will add the AvatarThe X-Men and Planet of the Apes franchises to its portfolio. And for every entertainment journalist working today, the Disney/Fox merger just makes the likelihood of their pissing off Disney (and losing access to critical industry sources) a little more likely.

Where media control is concentrated, press freedom suffers

What evidence exists showing the negative effects of media consolidation on press freedom? The amount of published research demonstrating this connection is small, but growing (some recent examples can be found: herehere, and here).

Along with RSF and Freedom House’s empirical work on press freedom, Columbia University Economics Professor Eli Noam has pioneered some expansive work on quantifying levels of media concentration across the globe.

In his 2016 book, Who Owns the World’s Media?, Noam and his collaborative team provide a data-driven analysis of global media ownership trends and their drivers. Using 2009 data (or later), they calculate overall national concentration trends, the market share of individual companies in the overall national media sector, and the size and trends of transnational companies in overall global media.

Employing a variety of concentration measures — in particular, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) and the Per Capita Number of Voicesfor firms with at least 1% market share (PCNV), both commonly used measures of market concentration — Noam computes media concentration scores for 30 countries where sufficient market share data are available.

The HHI (λ) is generally computed as follows:

where p is each firm’s market share, i is an individual firm, and n is the number of firms in that industry

Within each country, Noam computes an HHI score for each media sector and creates a total HHI score using a weighted average across media sectors.

The HHI is influenced by the relative size distribution of the media firms in each country and is not related to a country’s absolute market size. Whereas, the Per Capita Number of Voices (PCNV) is heavily influenced by a country’s population size. Hence, the U.S., China, India, Russia, and Brazil have very low PCNV scores (high media concentration). Also, for the graph below, RCF’s World Press Freedom Index was inverted (100 — WPFI) for ease of interpretation (i.e., high values of the inverted WPFI equals high levels of press freedom).

The Results

Figure 5 reveals a negative linear association between press freedom and media concentration (as measured by an additive index combining the HHI and PCNV scores computed by Noam).

While China is clearly an extreme outlier, pulling the relationship into a strong positive direction, its exclusion from the analysis does not change the significance of the relationship. The linear regression models shown in the Appendix — using these explanatory variables: HHI, PCNV, Media Concentration Index (HHI+PCNV) and an indicator variable for democracies — found all four variables to be significantly associated with press freedom. Overall, both linear models explained almost three-quarters of the variance in press freedom.

Figure 5: Relationship between Press Freedom & Media Concentration

Notice in Figure 5 the location of Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, and China. All five countries have experienced significant violence against journalists in the past decade, according to RCF, and are either ruled by autocratic regimes (China, Russia, Egypt) or are democracies under significant internal stress (Mexico, Turkey, India). Press freedom and autocracies are incompatible.

Even within the subset of democratic countries, there remains a significant positive relationship between press freedom and media concentration. In countries such as Switzerland, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, where media pluralism is strong, their press freedoms are among the highest in the world. Though, Israel is an interesting outlier (low media concentration / relatively low press freedom).

Europe addresses media pluralism as the U.S. continues to approve mega-media mergers

Much of the recent research on media pluralism and market concentration relates to Europe, with the most comprehensive research conducted by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) at the European University Institute. CMPF, a European Union co-funded research center, publishes the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM) to assess the risks to media pluralism in a given country.

In its 2016 MPM report, the CMPF concluded: “Amongst the 20 indicators of media pluralism, concentration of media ownership, especially horizontal, represents one of the highest risks for media pluralism and one of the greatest barriers to diversity of information and viewpoints represented in media content.”

The European Union is actively monitoring media concentration, even using Russian election meddling in the U.S. and Europe as one of the justifications for addressing the issue. In March 2017, the EU’s High Level Expert Group (HLEG) for online disinformation concluded that one way to counter disinformation is through safeguarding the diversity of the European news media. In May 2017, the European Parliament adopted HLEG’s recommendation to create an annual mechanism to monitor media concentration in all EU Member States.

And what has the U.S. done for the past two decades with respect to media concentration?

Despite a significant number of major media mergers since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, most recently the Disney-Fox merger which still needs antitrust approval from Europe before it can be executed, the U.S. has not been silent on media pluralism and the dangers of media consolidation.

In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in AP v. United States, “[the First] Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.” In its 8–0 ruling (Justice Robert Jackson did not participate in the ruling), the Court upheld media ownership regulations to ensure source diversity, arguing “freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not.”

Officially, the FCC’s policy objectives are competitionlocalism and diversity. Thus, before media mergers can occur they need approval from the FCC to ensure competition, localism and diversity are not threatened by a proposed merger.

In 2003, the FCC relaxed its ownership rules by eliminating cross-media ownership regulations in media markets with eight or more television stations, and allowed newspaper/television/radio cross-ownership in media markets served by four to eight television stations.

To assist the FCC in this new regulatory policy, the FCC developed a Diversity Index in 2002, which measured viewpoint diversity using a formula related to the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index (HHI), a metric U.S. antitrust authorities have used to assess market competitiveness (i.e., concentration). The FCC Diversity Index (FDI) used consumers’ average time spent with each medium to weight its importance. It then assigned equal “market shares” to each outlet within each medium and combined those “market shares” for commonly owned outlets.

The FDI was controversial at its onset with many consumer advocacy groups arguing that it failed to capture the real degree of media concentration occurring in the U.S.

During testimony before the FCC in 2003, Dr. Mark Cooper, Director of Research for the Consumer Federation of America, offered this assessment of the FDI:

“The decision to allow newspaper-TV cross ownership in the overwhelming majority of local media markets in America is based on a new analytic tool, the Diversity Index, that was pulled from thin air at the last moment without affording any opportunity for public comment. The Diversity Index played the central role in establishing the markets where the FCC would allow TV-Newspaper mergers without any review. It produces results that are absurd on their face.”

“The Commission arrives at its erroneous decision to raise the national cap on network ownership to 45 percent and to triple the number of markets in which multiple stations can be owned by a single entity because it incorrectly rejected source diversity as a goal of Communications Act. The Commission ignored the mountain of evidence in the record that the ownership and control of programming in the television market is concentrated and extensive evidence of a lack of source diversity across broadcast and non-broadcast, as well as national and local markets. Allowing dominant firms in the local and national markets to acquire direct control of more outlets will enable them to strengthen their grip on the programming market, which undermines diversity and localism.”

Twenty-two years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a sweeping piece of legislation that was “essentially bought and paid for by corporate media lobbies…and radically opened the floodgates on mergers,” according to the media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Understandably, PACs and lobbyists for the big media companies put their money behind Hillary Clinton in 2016 (about $50 million, not including internet-related PACs or individual contributions…and that does not include donations to the Clinton Foundation from media-related sources). But, as we’ve seen so far in the Trump administration, the media mergers have continued unabated and, if anything, Trump’s presence in the White House has lifted profits for all of the major media companies.

Why does this all matter?

The news media plays a critical role in informing the public about our democracy and, as we saw in the 2016 election, the mere possibility that malevolent forces might have manipulated information in that election is unsettling. Add in social media and other new media platforms and the potential for real mischief is substantial.

But it isn’t just foreign actors like Russia that we need to guard against. We need to look closely at the domestic forces that can censor and manipulate what information Americans receive.

“How can we have a real debate about media issues, when we depend on that very media to provide a platform for this debate?” asks Boston journalist Michael Corcoran. “It is no surprise, for instance, that the media largely ignored the impact of Citizens United after the Supreme Court decision helped media companies generate record profits due to a new mass of political ads.”

“Democracy suffers when almost all media in the nation is owned by massive conglomerates. In this reality, no issue the left cares about — the environment, criminal legal reform or health care — will get a fair shake in the national debate,” laments Corcoran.

Of course, it is not just the progressive left that suffers under the American media oligarchy — any viewpoint or perspective substantially deviant from the interests of the media oligarchs suffers. The agenda-driven journalism that defines most of what we watch and read today, effectively discharged from the strict requirements of objectivity and backed by the enormous resources of the major media companies, is becoming ever harder to counteract.

Conversely, the major media companies — along with the social media giants — are increasingly equipped to suffocate news and information that threatens their corporate interests.

If Comcast, News Corp., Viacom, Disney, CBS, and Time Warner collectively or informally decide a U.S.-backed invasion of Iran will help keep their corporate revenues growing, what independent news outlet or journalist is going to have the coverage and market share to challenge them?

Democracy Now, The Intercept, and The Empire Files are not enough to defend against the palpable threat the major media companies pose to American journalism and, by necessary extension, the American democracy.

  • K.R.K.

APPENDIX: LINEAR REGRESSION MODELS

Three-Variable Model

Dependent Variable: Press Freedom as measured by WPFI

Independent Variables: HHI, PCNV, Democracy Indicator

Two-Variable Model

Dependent Variable: Press Freedom as measured by WPFI

Independent Variables: Concentration Index (HHI+PCNV), Democracy Indicator

Is there anybody in TrumpWorld that understands the current zeitgeist?

By Kent R. Kroeger (September 21, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh instead of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court will go down as one of the biggest strategic mistakes of the Trump presidency (…there will be so many to choose from, but his antagonizing China thereby forcing China and Russia into a stronger military alliance will probably be his biggest error).

By failing to understand the legitimate grievances addressed by the #MeToo movement, Trump missed the perfect opportunity to offer a definitive response to the #MeToo movement’s excesses through the nomination of a strong, charismatic Republican woman to the Supreme Court. For a party possessing few nationally prominent women capable of attracting Trump’s vote base— UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst are the only two names that come to my mind —how could Trump’s White House advisers not understand the importance of this Supreme Court nomination decision.

Instead, in an unforced error, Trump nominated an establishment Republican to the Supreme Court, a Bush family friend nonetheless, and the Trump administration will not have another chance to nominate a conservative jurist once the 2018 midterms put the Democrats back in control of the U.S. Senate.

But give Trump credit, his cluelessness keeps his optimism strong.

“Brett Kavanaugh — and I’m not saying anything about anybody else — but I want to tell you that Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting,” President Donald Trump said at a Las Vegas rally on Thursday. “A great intellect, a great gentleman, an impeccable reputation, went to Yale Law School, top student, so we have to let it play out, but I want to tell you, he is a fine, fine person.”

In his uncharacteristically terse and measured statement about his embattled Supreme Court nominee, Trump exposed his deep bias that may have sabotaged his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

What does ‘(He) went to Yale Law School, top student’ have to do with the sexual assault accusation recently hurled at Kavanaugh by someone he knew in high school?

Yale’s top law students are capable of sexual assault too. Education and talent offer no information on whether or not someone is capable of committing a sexual assault crime.

When Trump speaks, he reveals himself. And by focusing on Kavanaugh’s resume, Trump revealed how disconnected he is from the controversy that will likely end this Supreme Court nominee’s candidacy and kill any chance Trump places another conservative jurist on the Court before the end of his first presidential term.

It is not surprising Trump relies mostly on alma mater and superficial factors when he makes major personnel decisions. Trump, like most senior personnel managers in the private and public sector, is a flawed judge of character and talent.

Nonetheless, Trump has advisers who collectively should have known better than offering Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court appointment given the superior candidates available at the time.

Most frustrating for social conservatives is that the ideal Supreme Court nominee under the current #MeToo zeitgeist was available. Judge Barrett, 46, a former Notre Dame professor and currently a U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, was on Trump’s final four list of Supreme Court nominees to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

A staunch constitutional originalist in the vein of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Barrett was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the 7th Circuit after a contentious grilling from Democratic Senators Al Frankenand Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett

When Senator Feinstein’s said to Barrett during the confirmation hearing last year that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” she signaled to the pro-choice Left that Barrett cannot be “trusted” to defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Feinstein’s ‘dogma’ obloquy was reminiscent of the religious bigotry faced by New York Governor Al Smith and President John F. Kennedy, both Catholics, when they ran for office. Up until last week’s 11th-hour stunt to derail the Kavanaugh nomination, Feinstein’s unsubtle smear of Judge Barrett’s faith was the low water mark in her Senate career.

Knowing how Judge Barrett triggers the worst in Senate Democrats, was there a better nominee for the Supreme Court for the #MeToo era? No, according to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who said she was preferable, especially to Kavanaugh, as she is “more solid in terms of what originalists are hoping for.” Kavanaugh, Shapiro argued, was the “D.C. insider pick” and was being pushed hard by former members of the Bush administration. To ideological conservatives such as Shapiro, George W. Bush’s endorsement was a red flag.

Kavanaugh is not a legal scholar on par with Antonin Scalia or Neil Gorsuch. He is, to be blunt, a political animal who thrived within the George W. Bush administration’s neoconservative project. He’s a entitled hack — pretty much what one should expect from a Georgetown Prep School grad.

More distressing to ideological conservatives however was Kavanaugh’s 2011 D.C. Circuit ruling that some legal experts say established the legal roadmap to save Obamacare. That ruling and his connection to the George W. Bush administration offer evidence Kavanaugh would be another Justice John Roberts — which is why social conservatives may not be that upset when Kavanaugh is ultimately borked by the Senate.

In contrast, Barrett would be the first female originalist on the Supreme Court, cut from the same legal cloth as Justices Scalia and Alito.

“I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks is clearly in conflict with it,” Barrett wrote in 2013 regarding whether the landmark Supreme Court abortion ruling Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Barrett’s ascension to the Supreme Court would be a landmark appointment by any historical standard.

So what happened?

According to White House sources, Barrett’s interview with Trump didn’t go well.

One rumor spread on social media that Barrett was uncomfortable around Trump. Another rumor said Trump thought her voice was ‘too high’ and ‘mousy’ and would not resonate well in a Senate confirmation hearing.

More substantively, White House insiders said the president feared Barrett would face a more divisive confirmation hearing than Kavanaugh due to her devout Catholic beliefs, particularly her strident view on abortion and her membership in a prayer group called the “People of Praise,” a charismatic “covenant community” first formed during the height of the 1960s social revolution.

While Trump’s own statements on abortion rights oscillates between incoherent to just to the right of Opus Dei, he assumed Barrett’s well-documented opposition to Roe v. Wade would turn generally pro-choice Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski against her Senate confirmation.

But, apparently, what also set Trump against Barrett was her non-Ivy League pedigree. Barrett is an alumnus of Rhodes College and Notre Dame Law School, but Trump is said to believe the Supreme Court should be the domain of Ivy League-trained jurists.

Is it inconsistent for a self-proclaimed anti-political-establishment president to still believe an Ivy League degree represents a basic qualification for the Supreme Court? Or for any other high-ranking government appointment for that matter? Not if you are Donald Trump.

Showing little depth of knowledge on just about every major legal and public policy subject he’s faced as president, it should not surprise anyone that Trump has preferred to bring in Ivy Leaguers for his administration, often with disappointing and sometimes disastrous results (Rob Porter, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Steve Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, and Ben Carson).

It must be frustrating to pro-life Americans that Trump’s incurable elitism and inability to understand the #MeToo movement that may well save Roe v. Wade from being overturned by the Supreme Court.

-K.R.K.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” reminds Democrats they are deeply divided

By Kent R. Kroeger (September 20, 2018; Source: NuQum.com)

Thanks Michael Moore.

It is not like Democrats don’t know how divided their party is and how increasingly intractable this split has become. Nonetheless, Moore had to make a movie about it under the guise of warning us how dangerous Donald Trump is to the American democracy.

Moore’s newest documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 takes predictable swipes at Donald Trump — he’s a serial philanderer, a liar, a racist, a lousy businessman, and probably a Russian stooge — all of which we can hear on CNN and MSNBC on any given night.

What is truly shocking about Moore’s newest film is that he has not forgiven the establishment wing of the Democratic Party (‘the corporatist wing’ as many progressives call it) for their culpability in getting Trump elected. The Russians get off easy in comparison.

Just as Moore warned before the 2016 election through his one-man show “October Surprise,” Fahrenheit 11/9 diagrams the fundamental reason why Donald Trump was (and is) attractive to Middle America —particularly people in the Brexit states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania).

Excerpt from “Michael Moore in Trumpland”

Before you have a chance to dig into your popcorn, Fahrenheit 11/9 describes Bill Clinton as a lying cad (which he is), Hillary Clinton as a warmonger and tool of Wall Street and Big Pharma interests (which she is), and laments that Barack Obama’s presidency was more style than substance (which it was).

Moore’s attack on Obama was particularly pointed as he castigated him for failing to do enough during the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Flint, of course, is Moore’ hometown and its contaminated water occurred during the Obama administration, though it was a Republican governor’s effort to cut local government costs that precipitated the crisis.

In Moore’s opinion, the Clintons, Obama and the current leadership of the Democratic Party, are defenders of the status quo, occasionally offering tepid support for progressive ideas such as universal health care and consumer debt relief, only to abandon them or water them down once in power.

Why did Trump win according to Moore?

“Because (Trump) said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest,” Moore wrote in a letter posted on his website a few months before the 2016 election. “When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory.”

Moore, without apology, is a New Deal Democrat patterned after the party’s mandate under FDR as a workers rights party, which remained the party’s banner through Walter Mondale’s 1984 run for president.

Today we call such Democrats “progressives,” who are effectively marginalized by the centrist neoliberals (led by Bill Clinton in 1992) that now control the party. If the Democratic primary votes in 2016 are an indication, progressives constitute roughly 40 percent of current Democrats.

And the issue that best demarcates the Democratic Party’s two factions is Medicare-for-All (MFA), the universal health care system, most often proposed by progressives, and is basically an expansion of the current Medicare system to cover all citizens.

The neoliberal-progressive split on MFA was on vivid display during the recent New York Governor’s race for the Democratic nomination, with the incumbent, Governor Andrew Cuomo, indicating MFA was an “exciting possibility” for New York, while his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, a progressive, accused Cuomo of allowing the New York Health Act, which would have implemented a single-payer system in New York, to die in the New York State Senate.

Moore even weighed in on that race by endorsing Cynthia Nixon in a tweet:

That race, won by Cuomo by a large margin, was bitter and ugly, though many New York progressives, such as their brightest star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have ended up endorsing Cuomo in the general election.

Source: The Jimmy Dore Show

And what do progressives get in return when they endorse “pragmatic” Democrats like Governor Cuomo?

The one finger salute, apparently.

When asked by a reporter about Ocasio-Cortez’ upset win in a congressional primary in Queens this summer, Cuomo said it was merely “a fluke” and the result of low voter turnout. In Cuomo’s estimation, the progressive wave is “not even a ripple.”

Those are the words of a Democrat comfortable alienating 40 percent of his base, knowing he’ll get their general election vote regardless of how he belittles their movement and ideas.

Moore keeps telling progressives, “Democrats will never succeed by continuing to elect the same old party hacks.” That in fact is the real message underscoring Fahrenheit 11/9. All the negative stuff in the movie about Donald Trump seems included for entertainment purposes only.

-K.R.K.

Where have you gone Richard Nixon?

By Kent R. Kroeger (August 6, 2018)

Born in 1964, my lifetime has witnessed three transcendent U.S. foreign policy achievements:

(1) Richard Nixon visiting China in 1972,

(2) Jimmy Carter facilitating a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1978,

(3) and Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush presiding over the end of the Cold War and eventually the Soviet Union without doing a gratuitous endzone victory dance.

Those three master achievements still largely define the U.S. relationship with those countries and regions today. And what do these achievements have in common? They all deescalated the chance of a war, though in the case of Nixon’s China visit the intention was more to contain the Soviet Union’s influence than to bring about Sino-American peace.

Nonetheless, Nixon’s China overture may yet have the most lasting impact of all. Today, even with tensions in the South China Sea simmering and the prospects of a trade war looming, China is fully integrated into the world’s market economy and will, in our lifetimes, become the globe’s largest economy. But, more importantly, while China is a major competitor to the U.S. and arguably still engages in unfair trading practices (though many U.S. business leaders dispute this), the long-term forecast remains positive for Sino-American economic cooperation.

As for Israel, Egypt and the Greater Middle East, the region remains a minefield of religious and ethnic prejudices with the constant potential to devolve into an open conflict. Yet, the Camp David peace accords still stand in full force today, unbroken and resolute. And even as most Arab countries don’t officially recognize Israel, the reality is shifting.

“Israel has become a key intermediary in the shipment of goods between Arab and other Muslim-majority countries, primarily because of the unrest in Syria,” according to journalist Joe Charlaff, who covers Israeli business and technology for The Media Line news service. “Israel has been serving as a continental bridge for Turkish-Jordanian trade, in particular, as well as for freight making its way to Turkey from other nations.”

And, finally, the end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, occurring on George H. W. Bush’s watch but initiated towards the end of Ronald Reagan’s administration, marks one of history’s most unique moments when two bitter and highly armed adversaries ended their hostilities without resorting to a large-scale, direct military conflict.

Three extraordinary foreign policy achievements within a 20-year period.

And President Donald Trump has put all three in jeopardy during the first two years of his presidency.

Failure defines U.S. foreign policy since 1993.

From Bill Clinton to the present, American foreign policy has been ineffective, at best, and dangerously incompetent, at worst.

Clinton’s administration competently shepherded the downsizing of the U.S. military in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dismemberment, but failed to call attention to the Rwandan genocide when it could, and grossly misunderstood the source and significance of radical Islamic extremism’s rise.

George W. Bush, in contrast, was an unmitigated foreign policy disaster on every conceivable level that cannot be adequately dissected here. Suffice it to say, today, we still suffer the consequences of the actions of W. and his neocon compatriots.

The next eight years under Barack Obama did little to rollback W’s mistakes and, in fact, amplified them through his ill-advised expansion of America’s military footprint into Syria, Yemen and the northern half of the African continent. Moreover, the escalating use of drones to attack terrorists (including Americans) was another policy low point for the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

It is no accident Russia initiated two unprovoked invasions late in the administration of both G. W. Bush (Ossetia 2008) and Obama (Crimea 2014). Both were weakened U.S. presidents unwilling to risk an escalation of hostilities with a relatively weak but aggressive Russian adversary.

Trump is making the same mistakes and some new ones

Any optimism inspired by Donald Trump’s campaign promise that he would ‘drain the swamp,’ is forced to accept that what Trump really meant was farming out American foreign policy to the capitals in Riyadh and Jerusalem, two American allies with decidedly parochial interests compared to the U.S.

The probability of a direct military conflict between Iran and the U.S. is increasing with the renewed imposition of economic sanctions against Iran by the U.S. and its allies. Australia’s state-owned television network (ABC) recently quoted senior sources within the Australian government as saying a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities as could occur as early this month (August).

“A war with Iran would define, consume and potentially destroy the Trump presidency, but exhilarate the neocon never-Trumpers who most despise the man,” writes Pat Buchanan, generally a Trump supporter and a vehement opponent of U.S.-led regime change wars. “If we start a war with Iran, on top of the five in which we are engaged still, then the party that offers to extricate us will be listened to, as Trump was listened to, when he promised to extricate us from the forever wars of the Middle East.”

Establishment Democrats and the Never Trump Republicans are noticeably silent on the growing prospects of a hot-war with Iran.

Even Trump’s greatest potential for a foreign policy triumph, the de-nuclearization talks with North Korea, looks increasingly like a diplomatic dud.

And, finally, we have the Russians. With some prominent Democrats even calling Russia’s meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election an act of war (it wasn’t), the chances of at least a mini-Cold War starting back up is a real possibility.

No U.S. foreign policy in the past twenty years however has been more unnecessary and ill-advised than the expansion of NATO to include former Soviet bloc countries, some of whom border Russia today. It started with the additions of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999, the accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004, and, more recently, the adding of Albania and Croatia in 2009.

Why that would be provocative to Russia has never been fully appreciated by the U.S. and its NATO allies, but can reasonably be cited as an important causal factor behind not only Russia’s military annexation of Ossetia and Crimea, but also behind its meddling in recent European and U.S. elections.

Of the three foreign policy achievements cited at the beginning, only the peaceful rise of China remains largely intact. And though Trump’s ill-advised tariff penalties targeting some of China’s more egregious trade practices threatens to expand into a wider trade war, if Chinese leaders have one predictable trait, it is that they do not over-react to short-term crises.

As for the survival of the other two foreign policy achievements (End of the Cold War and the Camp David Accords), my confidence is shaken.

-K.R.K.

About the Author:  Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: info@olsonkroeger.com or at kroeger98@yahoo.com)

One fine mess: Economic theory, national debt, regime change wars and the corporate news media

By Kent R. Kroeger (August 3, 2018)

Donald Trump proudly touts 4.1 percent GDP growth in the last quarter, as he should. For advanced economies today, economic growth at that rate is not the norm and rarely sustained.

In Trump’s words, he’s released the American economy from the “shackles of Obama’s of government-worshiping approach” to policymaking where he increased environmental regulations through executive fiat, raised taxes and imposed even more regulations to fund Obamacare, and supported TARP and government spending increases in hopes of boosting an ailing economy coming out of the 2008 worldwide financial crisis.

There is some truth to Trump’s argument and Democrats would be well advised to recognize its merits. But what makes Trump’s booming economy significant is that he tinkers with it while possessing no structured, interconnected understanding of how the economy works. Trump’s policies are a jumbled mess only loosely linked to anything resembling economic theory.

Where establishment Republicans since Ronald Reagan have attracted voters by touting Adam Smith’s classical economics along with its more recent neoclassical synthesis that acknowledges the utility of Keynesian policies for near-term macroeconomic boosts, Trump just throws economic policies against the wall to see what sticks. Some of Trump’s policies are pure classical economics (fewer regulations) while others are right out of Keynes (increased defense spending). Supply-side Trump has stoked disposable income through short-term tax cuts, and boosted business confidence by cutting corporate tax rates. Trump is no ideologue and his economic policies reflect that fact. And Trump the mercantilist shows no fear in starting a potentially growth-killing trade war with not only our greatest adversary — China — but with our closest allies (Canada, European Union).

Trump’s intellectual malleability— which is a gentle way of describing it — is filled with internal contradictions that could undercut the economy in rapid fashion. The future debt growth arising from Trump’s tax cuts and massive defense budget increases is staggering. In April 2018, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced its projection for the annual federal budget deficit to exceed $1 trillion in 2020 (see Figure 1).

A $1 trillion deficit during an economic expansionary period!

Imagine what will happen to government spending if a deep recession similar to the financial crisis of 2008 were to occur in the next four years. The neoclassical synthesis school recognizes the need for Keynesian policies in recessionary periods, but when the country is already carrying an annual deficit near $1 trillion, the government’s options become more limited. Sure, we could run the deficit to $2 trillion if we had to, but at some point that approach turns the U.S. into Greece and the major U.S. Treasury debt holders (China, Japan, Ireland, Brazil and Britain) will contemplate putting their money elsewhere.

Figure 1.

Yet, as I am a ‘Chicken Little deficit-hawk’ in the spirit of Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, I readily admit predictions of economic doom if we fail to reduce our national debt never materialize.

And when I seek current evidence to support my sky-is-falling worldview, I get this: Moody’s Investor Service’s report in February 2018 ( “Preeminent Financial, Economic Position Offsets Weakening Government Finances”) about the capacity of the U.S. economy to handle our growing national debt. The study is a near total rebuke of small government libertarians.

In the report, Moody’s Investor Service summarized our nation’s current situation: “The stable credit profile of the United States (Aaa stable) is likely to face downward pressure in the long-term, due to meaningful fiscal deterioration amid increasing levels of national debt and a widening federal budget deficit. However, the US economy is very strong, wealthy, dynamic and well diversified, and its role in the global financial system is unmatched. These factors help compensate for the impending fiscal weakness.”

At least Moody’s acknowledges the impending fiscal weakness, which they say will be driven by our country’s rising entitlement costs, rising interest rates, and Trump’s tax cuts.

Still, many factors keep the U.S. from becoming Greece, according to Moody’s report, including our trade competitiveness, rich resource endowment, high income levels and relatively supportive demographic trends.

Yes, President Trump, you read that correctly: supportive demographic trends. There must be some Never Trumpers at Moody’s because their report emphasizes that one of this nation’s greatest advantages over other advanced, slow-growth economies is the significant influx of new immigrants that helps keep our nation’s population growing at a time when others are contemplating losing population over the next 20 years (Japan, Greece, Poland).

Finally, most important to the U.S.’s ability to handle its growing national debt, according to Moody’s report, is the role of the U.S. dollar in global financial markets and the depth and liquidity of the U.S. treasury market. “They insulate the U.S. from external shocks and shifts in financing conditions in a way not seen with other sovereigns,” says the Moody’s report.

While Moody’s shuts up people like myself, I still believe in this economic maxim: All else equal, economies perform better when guided by free markets and lower levels of government intrusion.

What reinforces my belief in small government are charts like the following that I created using data from The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom report.

Freedom and limited government are strongly associated with economic growth

For over 20 years now, The Heritage Foundation, a free market, conservative-leaning think tank, has been quantifying the levels of economic freedom across the globe.

“Economic freedom is a critical element of human well-being and a vital linchpin in sustaining a free civil society. As the Index of Economic Freedom catalogues, the best path to prosperity is the path of freedom: letting individuals decide for themselves how best to achieve their dreams and aspirations and those of their families,” write Terry Miller, Anthony B. Kim and James M. Roberts in the introduction to The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 Index of Economic Freedom report.

The 2018 Index of Economic Freedom (IEF) grades and ranks countries on 12 measures of economic freedom that evaluate the rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and the openness of markets. A complete description of the 2018 IEF methodology can be found here.

My innovation to the 2018 IEF data set was to reduce the 12 measures of economic freedom down to four (Business Freedom, Gov’t Integrity, Freedom from Gov’t, and Fiscal Integrity) through a principle components analysis which is available upon request.

Of particular interest are the Business Freedom and Freedom from Government factors as they were strongly associated with 5-year GDP growth across all of the models tested.

The Business Freedom factor measures a country’s regulatory and infrastructure conditions that impact the ease of starting, operating, and closing a business.

The Freedom from Government factor has two major components. The first measures a country’s tax burden in terms of marginal tax rates on both personal and corporate income and the overall level of taxation (including direct and indirect taxes imposed by all levels of government) as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The second component reflects the burden imposed by government expenditures, which includes consumption by the state and all transfer payments related to various entitlement programs.

I also added these variables to the data set:

(1) Freedom House’s 1997 and 2017 Index of Political Rights to test the association of political freedoms and institutions with economic growth. This variable is coded on a 1 to 7 scale where 1 equals the highest level of political rights and 7 equals the lowest level of political rights.

(2) The economic cost of violence as a percent of GDP (as measured by the Institute for Economics and Peace).to control for the effects of war and domestic violence on a nation’s GDP growth.

Finally, my dependent measure was the 5-year GDP growth for each country from 2013 to 2017 (Source: World Bank) and the linear model generated using SPSS software is in the Appendix.

RESULTS:

As I am using a cross-sectional model to investigate the relationship between GDP growth and economic freedom, I am not able to draw strong conclusions about the direction of the causal relationships or how those dynamics change over time and in different economic contexts. It should also be noted that the 2018 IEF dataset occurs within a general period of economic expansion across the globe.

Nonetheless, while I do not pretend that the following results prove anything, they give us a snapshot at one point in time about the economic relationships between freedom and GDP growth.

Overall, the linear model explained about 40 percent of the variation in 5-year GDP growth (R-squared = 0.398) with the parameter t-tests for the following independent variables achieving significance at the p<.05 level (95% confidence level):

⚫ Business Freedom factor (standardized beta = 0.233): More business freedom associates with higher GDP growth

⚫ Freedom from Government factor (standardized beta = 0.226): Greater freedom from the government’s intrusion in the economy associates with higher GDP growth

⚫ An indicator variable for Asian Pacific countries (standardized beta = 0.258): Being an Asian Pacific country (the “Asian Tigers”) associates with higher GDP growth

⚫ Economic cost of violence as a percent of GDP (standardized beta = -0.216): Violence due to wars associates with lower GDP growth

⚫ Natural log of GDP per capita (standardized beta = -0.408): High-income countries associates with lower GDP growth

⚫ Index of Political Rights in 2017 as measured by Freedom House (standardized beta = 0.228): Lower levels of political freedom associates with higher GDP growth (This finding may sound counter-intuitive but it is consistent with the political science literature which has found the relationship between the political rights and GDP growth is curvilinear such that countries in the middle of the political rights scale tend to have the highest growth rates. In future analyses of these data I will explicitly model the relationship as curvilinear as opposed to the linear specification reported here)

⚫ Change in Index of Political Rights from 1997 to 2017 as measured by Freedom House (standardized beta = -0.193): Countries gaining in political freedom between 1997 and 2017 associates with higher GDP growth

The first graph (Figure 2) shows the relationship between the Freedom from Government factor and the predicted 5-year GDP growth. Interesting to note in the graph is how low-income countries tend to have higher predicted GDP growth. Also interesting is that the linear relationship between the Freedom from Government factor and predicted GDP growth is still strong when filtering down to only high-income countries (the green dots). It is apparent that the “Asian Tiger” countries (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.) predominate among the high-income countries with strong predicted GDP growth. No surprise there.

Figure 2.

The second graph (Figure 3) shows the relationship between the change in the Index of Political Freedom (1997 to 2017) and the predicted 5-year GDP growth. Interesting to note in this graph are the countries where political freedoms declined over the 20-year period (Russia, Serbia, Venezuela, Hungary, etc.) also have lower predicted GDP growth. Conversely, countries where political freedoms increased (as many in Africa did), predicted GDP growth was higher (Indonesia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Gambia, Niger, Sierra Leone, etc.).

Figure 3.

The takeaway is that economic and political freedom really does matter. The ability to start and operate a business without excessive government intervention aids in a country’s economic development. The more government takes from the economy (taxes) and competes for resources (gov’t spending), the lower the growth prospects for a country.

That sounds like a message right out of the Ronald Reagan playbook.

This is not an argument against all government spending. Governments are vital when ‘tragedy of the commons’ and other sub-optimal results occur in free market environments. And in the provision of many vital services and functions — such as health care, education, and national security — governments are often more efficient and economically rational than the private sector.

It is economically plausible that a Medicare-for-All health care system in the U.S., such as the one as proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would eat fewer financial resources than the current ‘mostly private’ system while also providing better outcomes. A recent study by the Mercatus Center (George Mason University) provides tentative evidence of this possibility, though critics of a Medicare-for-All system are quick to point out that many strong assumptions in the Mercatus study would need to be realized for Medicare-for-All to save the nation money.

Therefore, a general belief in the power of free markets to unleash a nation’s economic potential should not be translated to mean every social function has to be met by an unfettered private sector. Our expensive and ineffective U.S. health care system is living proof that free enterprise has its limits.

Trump has jettisoned the GOP’s ‘small government’ narrative

For my entire adult life, the Republicans have carried the following message to the voters at every level of elected office: Less government is better government; lower taxes, fewer regulations will unleash the power of free markets.

The Republicans’ franchising of this simple message over the past 40 years may well account for their current dominance at all levels of government.

In describing the Republican’s rise to political dominance, starting with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election victory, Brown University political scientist James Morone wrote:

“The great conservative narrative of American decline-a formidable Puritan jeremiad with all the trimmings-routed the Democrats, who promised only more efficient government and more expansive benefits. Conservatives smeared national health insurance as another big-government, something-for-nothing program aimed at the wrong people-the poor, the failed, and the lazy. Republicans soon converted the backlash into a “Contract with America” and seized control of government by winning the House, the Senate, both legislative chambers in eleven new states, and-over three years-fifteen new governors’ offices. Conservatives have been tightening their grip on power ever since.”

In Morone’s view, the Republican’s have ridden their big government is the enemy trope into power and maintained their political dominance at all levels of government because Democrats and progressives have never countered with equally coherent, grand vision. Democrats and progressives are good at offering policies and solutions to address problems, but that strategy, according to Morone, only reinforces the germaneness of the Republican’s pre-Trump narrative.

It’s not like Democrats haven’t possessed opportunities to turn the GOP’s own ‘anti-government’ sentiments against them given, since World War II, the GOP while in control of the executive branch has never decreased the size of government.

Ironically, it took a Democrat to translate the GOP’s ideas into reality. In Bill Clinton’s last year in office, the federal payroll, when measured relative size to the total U.S population, had almost 25 percent fewer civilian employeeswhen compared to 1992. Similarly, direct federal expenditures under Clinton held constant during his presidency, going from $5,694 per American in 1992 to $5,647 per American in 1999 (when measured in constant dollars). When measured as a percent of gross domestic product, federal net outlays under Clinton fell from 21 percent to 17 percent (see Figure 4).

Figure 4.

Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve

Clinton was so confident in his belief that his “New Democrats” had discovered the secret sauce in striking a balance between the necessary size of government and robust economic growth, he declared in his 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government is over, but we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.”

As I often quote my father as saying about Bill Clinton, ‘He was the greatest Republican president we’ve ever had.” He wasn’t saying it as a compliment, however; but I now believe, as a libertarian with progressive tendencies (or am I a progressive with libertarian tendencies?), the post-Clinton presidencies squandered an opportunity to put the federal government on a sound fiscal path that could have lasted through the 21st century.

Democrats and Republicans have colluded to make the American economy a permanent war economy

If Clinton’s fiscal model had been pursued through today —smaller government, higher taxes on the wealthy, targeted tax cuts, broad deregulation, and limited military commitments — this country would be in a better financial position to consider substantive policy ideas to address global warming, terrorism, student debt, slow wage growth, and a more rational health care system.

Instead, our country today is too busy funding the occupations of Afghanistan and one-third of Syria, supporting a regime change war in Yemen, threatening new regime wars in Iran and North Korea, and maintaining military bases and special operations forces in over 150 countries, to seriously consider implementing progressive policies such as an economically rational health care system comparable to what EVERY advanced economy in the world already enjoys.

In the shadow of the Trump administration, it is very sheikh in intellectual circles to reevaluate George W. Bush’s legacy as not being as bad as we once thought. The rehabilitation of W. is what happens when corporate Democrats join forces with neocons like Bill Kristol and David Frum in a common struggle to remove Donald the Barbarian from power.

In point of fact, the cost of George W. Bush’s incompetence continues to grow by the day. The hope that Barack Obama would end Bush’s interventionism never materialized — instead, he maintained most of the U.S.’s military commitments abroad and, often at the urging of his Secretaries of State, found new ones (Libya, Syria, Yemen, and half of the African continent).

The ink and airtime spent in the last two years by the news media over Russia’s crude meddling in the 2016 election is a convenient distraction so establishment Democrats and Republicans won’t be held accountable for their failed foreign policy policies and unsustainable military interventions over the nearly past 20 years. The radical Islamic terrorism whose seeds were planted by the First Gulf War in 1991 but isolated geographically in Middle East, now finds sanctuary from Southeast Asia to Northern Africa and has planted roots in many of Europe’s largest urban centers.

Our Middle East regime change wars create more problems than they solve through the killing and dislocating of millions of civilian noncombatants, destabilizing social institutions, inflaming centuries-old conflicts, and increasing the regional influence of America’s competitors like Russia and Iran.

Why are newspapers and TV news among the least trusted institutions in America? Because they fail to address the issues that matter most to people. Russia doesn’t keep 30 million Americans without health insurance. Russia doesn’t saddle college students with debt that will take some most of their adult life to pay off. Russia isn’t warming the planet to where forest fires, droughts and urban flooding are no longer newsworthy but the norm (oh wait, Russia is actually part of that problem…but no more culpable than we are).

Figure 5.

Source: Gallup

The media-fanned Russia scare looming over America today has set this country back on a whole host of important issues. Two years have been lost and there is no reason to believe we won’t lose the next two as well.

As long as the mainstream media continues to profit from fulminating at every word out of Donald Trump’s mouth and trying to convince Americans that Russia and Trump are existential threats to our democracy (they aren’t), as a nation, we are avoiding the real conversations that need to be going on regarding our counterproductive military entanglements and the more pressing domestic issues such as an over-priced health care system, student debt, and stagnant incomes for half of the country.

But nothing demonstrates the feckless and banal content of today’s news media than their uncritical coverage of American’s pursuit of regime change wars across the globe.

The crass cynicism of the corporate media and its unapologetic shilling for the nation’s military-industrial interests is perfectly captured in this discussion between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) over America’s continued military support to Saudi Arabia in its proxy with Iran in Yemen’s civil war.

Wolf, you muttonhead. You are not supposed to say out loud, ‘We can’t end our substantial role in this tragic war in Yemen because it will hurt American jobs.’

Wolf, sometimes you are a total imbecile.

That some Americans disproportionately profit from the American war machine is not new but it is always news.

Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of two Marines to receive Congressional Medals of Honor for two separate acts of heroism, said it first in 1935 and it still applies today: “A few profit — and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war…”

Six companies control 90% of U.S. media

And who is front and center supporting (and profiting) from the military-industrial complex? Comcast. AT&T. Disney. 21st Century Fox. Viacom. CBS.

Just six companies, for all practical purposes, control the media you consume. Thirty years ago it would have been 50 companies controlling 90 percent of the U.S. media.

This is a problem with, not a virtue of free market capitalism.

Figure 6.

Source: Fortune.com

Animal species depend and thrive on genetic diversity. It helps them avoid going down some potentially unfortunate genetic cul-de-sacs.

For example, when too much inbreeding occurs, this is what you get:

Charles the II of Spain and the Habsburg Jaw

 

Charles II (1661–1700) was the son of Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria. Quite unfortunately, Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece to each other, making Charles, their son, also their great-nephew and first-cousin respectively. Hence, the Habsburg jaw.

As a child, Charles did not talk until the age of four or walk until eight and was considered, using the terminology of the day, an total imbecile. He nonetheless rose to throne in 1665 and reigned for five torturous years.

In Charles II of Spain, I can’t think of a better analogy to represent today’s American news media — inbred, lame, unteachable, yet still dangerous.

The U.S. democracy is under threat, but it is not from the Trumps or the Russians. And while both can do harm to this country, their threat pales in comparison to a national news media that is hopelessly biased, incurious, frequently inaccurate, impertinent and generally not trusted by most Americans.

-K.R.K.

About the Author:  Mr. Kroeger is a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son (You can contact him at: info@olsonkroeger.com or at kroeger98@yahoo.com)

 

APPENDIX: Linear Model Predicting 5-year GDP growth rates for 154 countries (2013–2017)