Monthly Archives: January 2017

Trump on ISIS: “We’re Going to Trade the Shit out of Them”

Incoming President Donald Trump has announced a bold new strategy in the War on ISIS.* Speaking to reporters after a recent visit to Capitol Hill, Trump said that the war needs to be waged on two fronts, military and economic, and called for a “reverse blockade” against the terror group.

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Obama Finally Spares a Whistleblower

On Tuesday, President Obama decided to commute the sentence of whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s remaining prison sentence. Although rumors of the decision had been circulating for weeks, it was a very surprising change of heart for an administration that has earned a reputation for zealously prosecuting whistleblowers.

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Misdiagnosing the Election

After the election of Donald Trump, the American people have been subjected to several different theories to account for the outcome. These theories have been offered by leading political figures and major media outlets. And each time one theory fails to prove sufficiently persuasive, it is either ratcheted up further or replaced–usually by a claim that is more sensational.

To date, the most prominent theories offered to explain the election have been the following, each proceeding in quick succession after the other:

  • FBI Director James Comey deliberately threw the election to Donald Trump by announcing new investigations into the Clinton email server were occurring a week prior to the election.
    • (Preemptive) debunking here.
  • So-called “Fake News” sites, which were either run or duped by Russia, dutifully reprinted and shared false news that cast Clinton in a bad light.
  • And finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the Russian government to hack the DNC and John Podesta’s Gmail account and shared embarrassing emails with WikiLeaks in order to help Trump win.

As shown in the links above, there is good reason to be skeptical of each of these claims. True or not, however, I would argue they are also irrelevant. In fact, there is a much simpler explanation for why the Democrats lost the presidential election–namely, they nominated Hillary Clinton.

Now, I have nothing personal against the good Secretary–at least no more than I do against any comparably dangerous warmonger. But she was a very weak candidate for the general election. She brought all the scandal of Bill Clinton with a fraction of the charisma. She also had an active FBI investigation ongoing, which regardless of whether one thinks that was legitimate or not, remained a substantial political liability. This was never going to be a strong political combination.

Of course, it is true as her supporters often noted, that she was qualified–if by qualified we mean that she held many high governmental offices previously. Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much in US politics. Al Gore had considerably more experience and qualifications than George W. Bush in 2000, and he still lost. The same would be true of John McCain who lost to a first-term senator, Barack Obama, in 2008.

Importantly, it should not be a surprise that Hillary Clinton turned out to be a weak candidate. Polling data throughout the primary season consistently indicated this. Clinton’s main opponent, Bernie Sanders, consistently performed better in hypothetical match-ups against Republicans than Clinton did. Notably, Sanders performed best against Donald Trump. Additionally, Sanders’ favorability ratings grew as the campaign proceeded and more people learned about him while Clinton’s favorability decayed as the public gained more exposure. Over at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald compiled a helpful summary of this data from February 2016 here, laying out a prescient case that Clinton had an electability problem. I’ve included a few key updated charts through the end of the election below:

Sanders vs. Trump over time
Clinton vs. Trump over time
Sanders favorability ratings over time (black is positive)
Clinton favorability ratings over time (black is positive)

From these charts, a few observations emerge. Sanders’ lead against Trump was generally and more consistent than Clinton’s–thus, he was comfortably ahead for all of 2016 as the primaries finished. And unlike Clinton, his favorability ratings grew over time and then held constant.

From these simple observations, it also seems reasonable to conclude that Sanders would have almost certainly won the election if he received the Democratic nomination. Clinton supporters might suggest that Sanders fared better in polls only because he wasn’t victimized by the allegedly Russian-sponsored leaks and Comey’s conduct regarding the private server email investigation. But that’s sort of the point. It should not have been altogether surprising that there was additional fallout from the Clinton Foundation and the private server. The degree of the damage could not have been known, but the risk was certainly there at the beginning of the primary. Democrats nominated her anyway, and lost because of it.

Critically, this suggests the election result was not about policy. Republicans may want to believe the election was a repudiation of Obama’s legacy, but at least in the presidential race, the evidence doesn’t support that. If voters were reacting against Obama’s decisions and policies, why would they be poised to overwhelmingly support a candidate in Sanders who wanted to double-down and expand on those very same policies? Clearly, they would not.

It’s also good news for Democrats and center-left elites in the media that have spent the last two months grasping for an explanation of Trump’s victory. It seems they were afraid that voters really were rejecting Obama’s legacy. So as an alternative, they promoted external factors as the cause instead–eventually settling on Russian hacking as a preferable alternative to believing that US public opinion had shifted dramatically right. In the process, these same officials and pundits have been willing to significantly escalate tensions between the US and Russia, as a political coping mechanism.

In fact, there was no need for this hysteria. The reality being avoided is not worth avoiding. Democrats did not lose because Americans suddenly rejected the Democratic policy agenda; Democrats lost because they nominated a bad candidate.

Once more people understand this, maybe we can all take a step back from the political ledge and start focusing on what matters. Donald Trump becomes president this week. The chance that he might ease tensions with Russia is one of the only things we have to look forward to.

Assessment: RT’s ‘Question More’ Slogan Evidence of Russian Aims

In a new and explosive report at The Washington Post, anonymous senior US intelligence officials have revealed the existence of a new highly classified intelligence assessment on Russia and its influence campaigns against the US. The assessment, code-named “BEARLY SECRET” or BS within the intelligence community, focuses on the activities of state-funded broadcaster RT and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal involvement in actions against the US.

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Reject the Binary in US Foreign Policy

On Twitter over the weekend, Donald Trump issued a series of tweets on Russia that were a cause for both relief and frustration:

Of course, he is right that it is important for the US to have a good relationship with Russia. Amidst all the hysteria over alleged Russian hacking, it’s a very good sign that the President-elect still seems to be holding firm on his plans to improve relations.

The problem is that the improvement only needs to go so far. The goal is trade and peace with Russia, not an overt alliance. Trump’s suggestion, here and previously, that the US and Russia should work together is an ominous one.

The worst case scenario is a new and expanded War on Terror with Russia as a partner. This would be useless as far as counterterrorism is concerned, since the War on Terror itself has proven to be one of the most effective recruitment tools for jihadists. And it would require the US getting in bed with yet another repressive government–and one that happens to have its own reputation for using heavy-handed tactics against predominantly Muslim populations.  Few things would be more useful for fulfilling the extremist narrative of a modern-day crusade against Islam.

The risk of a US-Russian alliance exists, in large part, because of US politicians’ unwillingness to pursue relations outside the bounds of “either with us or against us.”

It’s high time for some imagination here. There is a third way between alliance and animosity. That third way is simply peace. And it should be the goal with Russia and everyone else.

Newly Unemployed Man Relieved by Econ. Study Showing Min. Wage Hikes Are Good for Workers

After getting laid off and being unemployed for five full months, Kwame Jackson was ready to hear some good news.*

It came this week, when he heard about a new study on the minimum wage prepared by a leading Ivy League-trained economist, Dr. Bertrand Hopkins. The study was consistent with the latest groundbreaking research on the subject, and added to a growing body of evidence that minimum wage increases are in fact good for workers–contrary to what the libertarian purists at the Heritage Foundation might have you believe.

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