The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! I hope you’re doing well and enjoying this newsletter each week. I’m enjoying the feedback I’m getting and the story ideas I’ve gotten (reminder: you can reply directly to this email). I was asked this week if I received any more news on China’s push into the semiconductor market. I’ve provided an update this week in the third major section. I’m also covering the fallout from Attorney General Jeff Sessions decision to recuse himself from the investigations regarding Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. But I’m leading off this week with an essay on the problems I’ve increasingly seen in the hyper-politicization and nationalization of all news. Hyper-nationalization of every issue on earth is leading to the destruction of our communities. Must read links, including pieces covering Trump’s speech to a joint-session of Congress follow.
A nationalized country is destroying communities and localized decision-making
I enjoy reading news. I always have. When I was a young kid and learned to read, I’d run outside every morning and pick up the paper. For most of my life, it was The Tennessean, though we also received free local city and county papers. When I first started reading the paper, the only thing I really cared about were the comics and occasional sports article. In 1998, when the Tennessee Volunteers won the College Football national championship, I saved several articles from those papers.
It was fun reading about local places and people who lived in the same state as me. Over time I began reading every news section and broadened my reading to other publications (current favorite is the WSJ). But over time, I’ve noticed a troubling trend: the nationalization of all things. Every issue, every problem, every event is covered through the lens of national politics and national thought. This has coincided with a massive decrease in the circulation of local newspapers. We’re losing the localized touch and nature of most news events in the world.
The correlation I’ve seen is as follows: Local papers and local news services go out of business, leaving behind a void. The void is then filled by national and state news organizations which, catering to a larger audience, only report on broad-sweeping news stories. Which means the only stories people hear about, care about, and learn about are large national stories. Everything is viewed nationally instead of locally. This has largely eliminated local differences between political beliefs. There’s no such thing, anymore, like a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican. People have been forced into larger columns with less diversity of thought. This is despite different geographic regions having radically different political views.
I’ll give an example: The paper I’ve read most of my life has been the Tennessean. For most of my life, though it was a liberal paper, it was a southern liberal newspaper. People generally agree the paper had a liberal slant, but it had a specific kind of liberal slant. It would have been considered to the left of your average blue dog Democrat in the state. While the Tennessean bills itself as the state paper, it’s more of Nashville/Middle Tennessee’s newspaper. It covers that specific area more than it does the rest of the state. The other major cities, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, each had their own newspapers that reflect the liberal bent of their city. Knoxville is more conservative than Chattanooga, which is more conservative than Nashville, which is more conservative than Memphis. Each region reflected the history and political differences of their citizens.
That’s no longer true. The business Gannett came in and bought out every single paper in the state, save one, and made them all into little USA Today’s for their region. Instead of these papers reflecting local versions of liberalism, each paper now reflects a nationalized liberal viewpoint. A type of liberal progressivism that is, for the most part, wholly unknown to these parts of the South. It also meant something else: local newspapers no longer reflect the people in their markets. They reflect a nationalized political audience and push stories to those groups. The locals have to either accept being force-fed something they don’t believe, or they cut their subscription and move to other sources.
And here’s the larger problem: After losing touch with their readers, newspapers caused people to lose touch with their communities. People only heard a nationalized version of their community and local groups, not the local news. And if they didn’t like that type of news, they simply stopped reading and went other places. With the explosion of the Internet, people can go someplace else to get their news. Hence the rise of polarized Facebook and Twitter feeds. People only see their communities through the vein of national politics.
Here’s an example of how this is playing out: Take the current debate over Transgender bathrooms. This should be an issue where local school boards look at their schools, their district, and make a decision. And in fact, if you look at situations where that has happened, schools have accommodated trans-students to accommodate them and protect them. The most popular solution is simply to have those students use faculty bathrooms. Avoid the conflict altogether and keep both sets of parents happy. Why is this important? Because some students claiming transgenderism are lying and trying to cause trouble in school. Local school leaders are going to know who these kids are in the district. They are equipped to handle those situations. Some students are simply confused and need help. Again, local leaders will know who these students are to help.
Instead, every single situation is being forced to be litigated on a national level. People want a one-size-fits-all policy for every situation. Not because they want to help people, but because they want to force their politics on another group. President Obama’s executive order was an authoritarian order. It commanded all school districts to follow a national policy, which had no basis in Constitutional law, no instruction on how to implement, and was pure manipulation. He overrode more than a century of policy giving educational authority to states and local school boards. President Trump removed that policy and allowed local leaders to retain control and somehow Trump is called the authoritarian (reality check: fascists don’t give up power).
Here’s what letting local school districts solve the problem will do: you’ll get a variety of solutions. Some good, some bad. But eventually, school districts will figure out a solution that works. It will protect everyone involved and allow districts to run in peace. School districts know the people in their district and know how to handle the local tendencies in their communities. A one-size-fits-all policy shoves policy down everyone’s throat and tells parents, children, and communities: It’s D.C.’s way or the highway (even though D.C. hadn’t given the order any thought. They just order their personal politics on everyone. It was about as well thought-out as Trump’s initial immigration EO).
Back to my main point: the decline in local newspapers reflecting the local flavors and ideas of their readers has nationalized all conversations. The elites running this type of system believe they know better than all people in all communities. When news and policy makers believe they can shove the same ideas down on everyone, you’re staring at cultural authoritarianism. It takes an incredible level of conceit to say local differences don’t matter. And that conceit is why we have Donald Trump as President. People refused to be treated as pawns of an elite class that lost touch.
People made fun of Trump for saying things like: “I’ll make all your dreams come true.” But in reality, his claims are no different than an elite class that believes it can make the world better through massive policy swings and more power grabs. Their utopian vision is just a more sophisticated way of saying what Trump said. Trump is a mirror image of the elites who hate him in the national papers. Republicans are guilty of this as well, saying large social programs or policies will solve problems across the United States (see Common Core / overhaul of the welfare state).
The three most powerful papers in America are the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. You’ll notice, in these cities, that’s where the anti-Trump marches were the largest. It’s where Clinton won most of her support. And these places are the center of all nationalized political discussion. They ignore everything not emanating from their cities. The national papers ignore the local and want the national to dictate the local.
James Madison’s famous Federalist Paper No. 10 argued that numerous “factions” in the country were good. Those factions would help check all forms of government overreach. And these factions would check one another to stop bad populism. The nationalized version of everything we have now, ironically, reduces the number of factions. While the internet has increased the number of factions in the country, our news coverage limits those factions into smaller groups (and makes group shaming easier, as I’ve written about).
It’s a fatal conceit to believe you’re smart and powerful enough to “benevolently rule” over every people, class, and group in America. It’s also a fatal conceit to believe news is the same across all races, ages, and communities. What people believe on a local level matters. It matters across states and counties. If you force people into a nationalized system of everything, you’re going to get the polarized system we have now. And with that polarized system, the wild political swings and consistent upheaval. If you return power and dignity back to local levels, you can blunt the massive swings we’re seeing in culture and elections.
Since 2006 we’ve seen roughly 5 wave elections. That is, one party sweeps into power over the other party. As our political identities become more nationalized, those types of wave elections will continue. As will the upheaval. We need a return to localized politics and news. Communities should rule over themselves. Newspapers should return to the roots of their communities, reflecting those beliefs. Increasing the number of political voices will mediate the extreme swings. Narrowing the news and politico idea field further will not.
AG Jeff Sessions recusal from Russian election probe is the right move
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced he will recuse himself from the current investigations into Russia’s interference with the 2016 campaign and any ties the Trump campaign has with Russia. This is the right and correct move. After 8 years of watching Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch embroil the DOJ in scandal after scandal and never recuse themselves (Holder was held in contempt of Congress, the first Cabinet official ever to be held in contempt for refusing to turn over documents in a Congressional probe). Sessions recusing himself is the first sign of integrity we’ve out of the top of DOJ in a long time.
Why Sessions recused himself
The main story that made Sessions recuse himself was a report in the Washington Post about two meetings Sessions had with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kilsyak:
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.
When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, the senator was a senior member of the influential Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.
The issue here is that Sessions never disclosed these meetings while during his Senate confirmation. During confirmation he was questioned about these statements and basically said he didn’t have any contacts with the Russians about the campaign, or in a campaign capacity (which is why the perjury charges from the left are overbroad. The evidence isn’t clear on that front legally). Everyone is focusing in on whether or not Sessions lied under oath, and that’s the wrong focus. Frankly, his confirmation hearing statements aren’t important at all. What is important is how connected he is to the FBI investigation that is probing into his contacts with the Russians, per the WSJ:
U.S. investigators have examined contacts Attorney General Jeff Sessions had with Russian officials during the time he was advising Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.
The outcome of the inquiry, and whether it is ongoing, wasn’t clear, these people said. The contacts were being examined as part of a wide-ranging U.S. counterintelligence investigation into possible communications between members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Russian operatives, they said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been leading the investigation, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The White House directed requests for comment to the Justice Department.
This point is important: If Sessions IS under FBI investigation, he absolutely must recuse himself from overseeing any investigation on this front. It’s the same principle that Holder and Lynch violated multiple times. It’s also important for him to recuse himself from any investigation into Trump’s campaign having contacts with the Russians because Sessions was a surrogate for the campaign.
The problem isn’t, as so many conservative pundits have argued, that Sessions spoke with a Russian ambassador. It’s that he spoke to a Russian Ambassador, long known as an open Kremlin spy in America, while the Kremlin was engaged in an Active Measures campaign to aid Trump / harm America. Sessions did that while acting as a surrogate of the Trump campaign. And currently both Congress and the FBI/Intelligence Community is investigating the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Kremlin during the campaign to see if they asked the Kremlin for help. Sessions actions place him in a position of having a conflict of interest. He cannot impartial oversee an investigation while being a potential subject of that investigation.
Sessions did recuse himself. Which is good and the right thing to do. Like I said, were this the Obama era, neither Holder nor Lynch would have done the same. Unlike the left, I don’t believe there’s enough evidence here to force Sessions to resign, nor do I believe he committed perjury. He does have a conflict of interest though, and recusal was the best option. Unlike Flynn, who faced distinct problems of being compromised by the Kremlin, it’s unclear what Sessions conversions with the Russians were about.
On a broader point, as someone who has been pointing out Trump and Co.’s Kremlin ties for over a year now, the Jeff Sessions story is much ado about very little. The Kremlin could have been trying to create an opening here, but there’s little evidence Sessions is compromised. And frankly, the Sessions story masks the other areas whether the Kremlin is actively engaged.
The IC leaks we are seeing are from Obama era government employees
The far more interesting story, being masked by the Sessions story, is a lead story in the NYTimes. It dropped a few hours prior to the Washington Post story. The title: “Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking” –
In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
The overarching story: After the campaign season was over, the Obama administration began a systematic compilation of all evidence pertaining to Trump and the Russians. Their fear was Trump would destroy the evidence. They also knew that some of Trump’s associates had been communicating with the Kremlin, including associates close to Vladimir Putin. Remember, these contacts were occurring DURING the active measure campaign the Kremlin was actively engaged in on American soil. Democrats are calling this “hacking the election,” which is blatantly untrue. The real question is this: Did anyone in Trump’s camp or campaign communicate/collude with the Kremlin on attacking Clinton? Right now, the answer appears to be “No.” But the intelligence we have right now suggests there are still very suspicious activity happening between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. None of it points to Trump, but it does point to several compromised individuals in his circle, people like: Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. As I’ve said repeatedly, those who are compromised MUST be cleaned out of the government.
The NYT delved deeper and learned the depth of the Obama administration’s activities (long passage):
As Inauguration Day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.
At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.
There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. In one instance, the State Department sent a cache of documents marked “secret” to Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland days before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The documents, detailing Russian efforts to intervene in elections worldwide, were sent in response to a request from Mr. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and were shared with Republicans on the panel.
“This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Mr. Obama. “When the intelligence community does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.”
The opposite happened with the most sensitive intelligence, including the names of sources and the identities of foreigners who were regularly monitored. Officials tightened the already small number of people who could access that information. They knew the information could not be kept from the new president or his top advisers, but wanted to narrow the number of people who might see the information, officials said.
More than a half-dozen current and former officials described various aspects of the effort to preserve and distribute the intelligence, and some said they were speaking to draw attention to the material and ensure proper investigation by Congress. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified information, nearly all of which remains secret, making an independent public assessment of the competing Obama and Trump administration claims impossible.
You may recall few weeks ago, when I was delving into this issue, I noted that there were two main sets of leakers: non-partisan career intelligence officials and Obama era partisans seeking to sink Trump. The above Times story explores the Obama era leakers. There was a distinct effort to preserve and leak evidence Trump and some of his associates were compromised. You’ll also notice the overarching conclusion here: right now the IC doesn’t have anything saying Trump colluded with the Russians.
A few of Trump’s associates have been compromised, Flynn, Manafort, and likely his attorney Michael Cohen. Trump’s son Donald Jr. has likely even accepted payments from Russian sympathizers for speeches. There are fairly open rumors among the IC types I follow that Trump may have issues with the Kremlin because they’ve either funded his ventures or used his his hotels/resorts as money laundering operations. They would point to Trump’s tax returns as the place holding the evidence. But again, there’s nothing direct that anyone can point to as “the smoking gun.” Most of the evidence points back to Trump associates. Not to Trump himself (which is why I say we’re headed towards a failed impeachment attempt from Democrats. Especially after the House/Senate investigations get underway).
The other major issue here is Trump has great enemy to fight: Liberals and the media. As John Schindler pointed out, these types are the perfect foil for Trump to dodge trouble on the Russia front:
It must be said that President Trump is greatly helped by his adversaries on this issue. Strategists know that having a cooperative enemy is just about the best gift anyone can hope for, in politics as in war, and Trump has just about the most cooperative enemies imaginable here. After decades of low-balling the Russian threat, when not mockingly denying it outright, liberals suddenly see the Kremlin bear lurking menacingly around every corner. Leftists who castigated American intelligence as the enemies of civil liberties, openly hailing defectors to Moscow like Edward Snowden as heroes, now regard our spies as the saviors of our democracy.
This kind of naked partisanship isn’t fooling anybody in the Intelligence Community, which is skeptical of all partisan politics. Worse, the Left has embraced many White House critics whose sole credential is vehement loathing of Republicans in general and Trump supporters in particular. Many of the talking heads cited whenever the issue of Trump and Russia comes up are self-proclaimed experts, while others are outright frauds (MSNBC is particularly egregious in this regard).
The Left, specifically the Obama administration, created the environment that has allowed Russia to thrive. George W. Bush, who misread Putin at first, correctly saw Putin as a threat at the end of his term. Obama naively/infamously pushed the “Russian Reset,” which was an abysmal and total failure. The Left also has a long history of condemning the hunt of Russian moles in the US government. They castigated attempts to oust Russian moles in the 1950’s when the destroyed Senator Joe McCarthy, who, while a terrible messenger, was right in that there were Russian moles.
Secondly, while I’ve hammered the Trump admin for bad connections to the Kremlin, it cannot be ignored that the Left shares the same problems:
The media’s focus on Trump’s Russian connections ignores the much more extensive and lucrative business relationships of top Democrats with Kremlin-associated oligarchs and companies. Thanks to the Panama Papers, we know that the Podesta Group (founded by John Podesta’s brother, Tony) lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. “Sberbank is the Kremlin, they don’t do anything major without Putin’s go-ahead, and they don’t tell him ‘no’ either,” explained a retired senior U.S. intelligence official. According to a Reuters report, Tony Podesta was “among the high-profile lobbyists registered to represent organizations backing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.” Among these was the European Center, which paid Podesta $900,000 for his lobbying.
That’s not all: The busy Podesta Group also represented Uranium One, a uranium company acquired by the Russian government which received approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department to mine for uranium in the U.S. and gave Russia twenty percent control of US uranium. The New York Times reported Uranium One’s chairman, Frank Guistra, made significant donations to the Clinton Foundation, and Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 for one speech from a Russian investment bank that has “links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.” Notably, Frank Giustra, the Clinton Foundation’s largest and most controversial donor, does not appear anywhere in Clinton’s “non-private” emails. It is possible that the emails of such key donors were automatically scrubbed to protect the Clinton Foundation.
Let’s not leave out fugitive Ukrainian oligarch, Dymtro Firtash. He is represented by Democratic heavyweight lawyer, Lanny Davis, who accused Trump of “inviting Putin to commit espionage” (Trump’s quip: If Putin has Hillary’s emails, release them) but denies all wrongdoing by Hillary.
In other words, the Kremlin has moles on both sides of the aisle. Which makes sense to anyone who understands the Kremlin’s mindset: they see America as their greatest enemy. They want the downfall of America. And they are willing to go to great lengths on the espionage front to destroy America, her institutions, and standing in the world.
Sweeping the White House clean isn’t about partisan sides. It’s about a comprehensive cleaning of a corrupt government. Trump is helping knock out a lot of the corruption on the Democratic side. Obama era operatives are leaking and being fired from the government. But Trump came in with his own baggage that needs cleaning too. The security of America depends on it.
China’s continued push into the Semiconductor market
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a piece on how China was investing around $150 billion dollars, domestically and abroad, to take over the world supply of semiconductors. For those who don’t know, semiconductors are a key hardware component in nearly every electronic device on the market. China’s push into this market is seen as a dangerous national security problem for the United States. In Issue 31, I brought up a scenario described by defense technology futurists Peter Singer and August Cole in “Ghost Fleet,” a novel exploring how Russia and China could attack the United States:
In the novel, once the Chinese established global trade dominance with semiconductors, they had their companies sell semiconductors to US companies. This included US defense contractors. The Chinese loaded malware onto the chips of these semiconductors that went into every new piece of US technology. This malware was used at the beginning of the war to disable US military vehicles and technology. In one of the key vignettes describing this technology, a new US jet is scrambling to fight off a surprise Chinese invasion force in Hawaii. Once it gets airborne, the Chinese semiconductor chip uses the malware loaded on it to allow Chinese anti-aircraft missiles to lock on more easily to the aircraft, even when flack and evasive maneuvers are used. The malware disabled common defense systems and made the plane and pilot easy prey.
The Chinese push into this market poses both a market and national security threat to the United States. This isn’t just capitalism at play. The Chinese are purposely looking to manipulate markets to achieve a monopoly and security advantage against the United States. US firms are sounding the alarm, according to Fortune Magazine:
According to a U.S. government report released in January, “Chinese policies are distorting markets in ways that undermine innovation, subtract from U.S. market share,” and, because of the chips’ uses in critical infrastructure, “put U.S. national security at risk.” During his confirmation hearing earlier this year for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross said he, too, was “very, very concerned.”
At issue is the Communist Party leadership’s plan to jolt China’s domestic chip sector with $150 billion in aid from 2015 to 2025. Industry watchers say they have seen this play before: Prop up indigenous businesses with subsidies, flood global markets with supply, and undercut the competition.
And while the Chinese government has attempted to quell concerns that it is engaging in unfair market practices, the US government and US businesses disagree with that assessment. They pushed the Obama admin and now the Trump admin to protect US interests in the semiconductor market with the following ideas, according to the Financial Times:
In a report this month prepared for President Barack Obama, a commission, whose members included current and former chief executives from chipmakers such as Intel and Qualcomm, called for the US to do more to create a supportive environment for its semiconductor companies and to retain talent.
It also called for the US to work with the EU and other allies to strengthen global export controls on sensitive semiconductor technologies and for continuing scrutiny of Chinese investment in the sector by the US committee on foreign investment. On the committee’s recommendation, Mr Obama last year blocked the acquisition of German chip equipment manufacturer Aixtron by Chinese investors.
The goal of any policy put forward by the Trump administration should be to protect the US, and the West in general, from Chinese market manipulation. The Chinese goal is to drive out US businesses, purchase them near bankruptcy, and monopolize the entire semiconductor market. Semiconductors are in every piece of equipment you can think of: computers, missiles, bombers, satellites, phones, and more. Control that piece of hardware, and the crucial rare mineral market, and you can hamper US defense technologies and strategies.
How should the US respond? That question isn’t an easy one, as a piece in the Diplomat points out:
Critical questions that any government needs to ask before implementing a one-size-fits-all restrictive policy include: (1) Would limitations such as export controls on chips and/or chip technologies and demands for reciprocity really work? (2) How might China react economically and politically to such restrictions, especially given that the overall tenor of the relationship seems to be growing more tense? (3) Is every chip firm and every chip technology really critical to defense and industrial security? (4) Are workers and companies in the chip sector really better off without Chinese investment? (5) Would pushing Chinese efforts “underground” be better than seeing what was transpiring above ground? (6) Are established review processes like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) truly inadequate to deal with putative Chinese threats?
Ultimately, I believe the free market can solve this problem. Easing regulations in the industry to allow a freer flow of capital would help. Foreign policy should be big here too. The US should put more pressure on the Chinese to adopt a completely free market system. State control of companies in a free market worldwide should not be tolerated. If the Chinese were forced into a free market system where they couldn’t manipulate via state control, their threat to the US would drop dramatically. It would also be a boon for the Chinese people, to live free lives.
Artificial and controlled economies aren’t sustainable. China will eventually deal with the consequences of their controlled economy (a lot of their so-called economic growth is fake, see their “Ghost Cities.” A short documentary piece by Australia’s version of Dateline is also harrowing). Most economists expect the China bubble to pop eventually. Forcing the issue with China would help protect US industries and US national defense. But until then, China poses a direct market threat to US security.
This is a similar tactic that Reagan used against the Soviets in the 80’s: ramp up economic production and defense spending. This forces China to compete harder and burn out faster. Communism holds the “seeds to its own decay,” and that is also true for China’s version of communism. The US should ensure those policies reach fruition, decay, and fail.
Links for your radar
Trump Praised for Presidential Tone, Unifying Theme – RealClearPolitics
A month into his presidency and in his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump struck an unusually presidential tone. While reaffirming his hard-line pledges on immigration — even proposing a program called Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement — and “America first” rhetoric, he also included policy items Democrats like. The GOP president called for a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, for example, along with lowering the cost of prescription drugs. He praised paid family leave, “clear air” and “women’s health.” And he made it difficult for moderate Democrats up for re-election in two years in states he won to withhold their applause.
Trump goes big: Jobs, safety, and U-S-A – Byron York, The Washington Examiner
“Before President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress, I asked several Republican operatives, professionals who both opposed and supported Trump in the GOP primaries, to let me know what they thought.
“A good speech, and most importantly, it was better than any thought it would be,” emailed Curt Anderson, who ran Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign. [Trump said] “‘My job is not to represent the world, my job is to represent the United States of America’ — AND THE DEMOCRATS DID NOT APPLAUD. Just think about that for a moment. This simple sentence captures the heart of Trump’s appeal. And it is also the Achilles heel of the Democrats.”
Donald Trump’s First Congressional Address Was The Speech People Needed To Hear – Ben Domenech, Editor in Chief of The Federalist
This was an exceptionally effective speech, well-delivered, normal, and with a few unexpectedly emotional notes. It puts in perspective how terrible his convention speech was, with its laundry list of policies and personal braggadocio. There have been some excellent choices for President Trump’s speechwriting office – Vince Haley and Ross Worthington have been writing for Newt Gingrich for years, and you can see the hallmarks of Gingrichian arcs of history and imagine Mars and what inventions shall we have at 250 years in this speech. These are much better than personal braggadocio – they are about us, and what we can achieve. When Trump talks of these things, he is more unifying and more ambitious than the average tempered politician. And this is the part we cannot see Pence or Kasich or Cotton giving – the part where we say that together, public and private, politician and CEO, the United States of America is fundamentally an idea that will plant its flag on the top of worlds. Only Trump is audacious enough to say that. And that is why he is there.
What if everything you know is wrong? – XX Committee
“One of the nice things about working in counterintelligence is the acceptance of the notion that some things are not quite what they seem to be. (One of the bad things is that it can make you weird, even slightly crazy, if you stick to it too long; see: James Angleton.) Working in CI, every day you encounter people, even whole organizations, acting out secret agendas that are carefully hidden from public view … but you get to know the hidden truth.
It is fashionable to deride anything like what I’m suggesting as a “conspiracy theory” which conveniently cuts off discussion amidst images of people living in basements wearing tinfoil hats. Yet conspiracies do exist – pretty much every revolution starts as one – and such thinking forms the basis of all espionage. There is a good reason the Russian word for espionage activities, what Americans term “tradecraft,” is konspiratsiya. Those who have labored in counterintelligence know that agents provocateurs, fronts, and even false flags happen all the time, indeed they are unexceptional, bread-and-butter things on Planet CI. Just don’t expect civilians, normal people – especially academics, mainstream journalists, and nearly all “deep thinkers” – to believe you. Yet every once in a while the secret world jumps into open view, and the reaction to the revelation can be anything from outright denial to speechless confusion.”
Fabricating Chelsea Clinton: The contrived campaign to make Chelsea Clinton a thing – Commentary Magazine
“Democrats are confused as to how they were bested by a political figure they see as an empty suit with a pedigree famous for little more than tweeting. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
It’s been hard to avoid the contrived, media-driven campaign to fabricate Chelsea Clinton into a figure of political and cultural relevance.”
“Southeastern Europe is entering a period of renewed instability after almost two decades of relative tranquility. As I explained in a recent column, the disastrous wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 solved some political problems but created others. And now the Balkans are at the precipice of renewed conflicts—in no small part due to Kremlin meddling.
The most direct target of malign Russian plotting has been Montenegro, the smallest republic to emerge from the wreckage of Yugoslavia. With less than three-quarters of a million people, tiny Montenegro possesses a stunning Adriatic coastline, an important geo-strategic position, and a political-cum-business elite that is vibrantly corrupt even by outrageous regional standards.”
To spend three days at this year’s CPAC, the annual right-wing carnival of politics and culture, was to witness an ideology conforming to an individual rather than the other way around. The president’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, set the tone Thursday morning when asked to assess Trump’s impact on the conservative movement. “Well, I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC,” she said. The moderator laughed and so did the audience members, but it wasn’t a joke: Anyone searching for a brand of conservatism independent of the new president would have walked away sorely disappointed.
After a three-day celebration of Trumpism, the announcement of the straw poll results on Saturday afternoon told the whole story. A full 86 percent of attendees approved of Trump’s job performance so far, compared with just 12 percent who disapproved. More consequentially, on the question of whether Trump is “realigning the conservative movement,” 80 percent agreed and only 15 percent disagreed. Both statistics were met with cheers inside the main ballroom.
“In many ways, Donald Trump is the conservative movement right now,” Jim McLaughlin, the Republican pollster who conducted the survey, told CPAC attendees. “And the conservative movement is Donald Trump.”
Former President George W. Bush warns America against isolationist tendencies – The Associated Press
Bush’s remarks come at a time when Europeans have been skittish that President Donald Trump may promote isolationist policies. Last month, Vice President Mike Pence reassured allies in Europe about the U.S. commitment to NATO and the country’s willingness to maintain its ties around the globe.
Bush, 70, said it was not his intent to criticize his successors at the White House and he is optimistic about the future. “I don’t want to make the president’s job worse,” he said. But he also alluded to the Iraq War, and warned that there is a lesson “when the United States decides not to take the lead and withdraw,” an apparent critique of former President Barack Obama.
“Vacuums can be created when U.S. presence recedes and that vacuum is generally filed with people who don’t share the ideology, the same sense of human rights and human dignity and freedom that we do,” he added.
Democrats may try to assure themselves that things are not so bleak. The party still pulls in nearly 90% of the black vote, two-thirds of Hispanic or Asian votes, and majorities among racial and ethnic “others.” They continue to capture a majority of women and young people. While the exit polls show that Republicans have been consistently chipping away at this coalition, the trend does not suggest the GOP will actually win majorities from any of these groups anytime soon.
But here’s the rub: Republicans actually don’t need to outright win ― or even come close to winning ― any of these demographic categories in order to come out ahead. If minority turnout is low, Republicans win. If Democrats fail to capture 2012 levels of black, Hispanic and Asian votes, they lose. It doesn’t really matter if lost votes go to Republicans or independents ― the outcome is the same.
And the trend is not looking so good
(Note: While an interesting piece, always remember: Demographics are not destiny. We’re in an era of open elections. Either party can win for a variety of reasons which are out of their control. The same forces that gave Trump the Presidency could swing the opposite direction anytime in the next 2-6 years. See my post-election post for a full analysis of the election numbers.)
If there was a major rise in antisemitism, then the 190 incidents that the media have reported on in the first two months of 2017 should be significant. That’s 95 a month. Let’s use that as a barometer and look at the first seven years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The 2016 data, when it is released, will be influenced by the apparent rise in antisemitism during the election. But the years 2009-2015, for which we have data, are untainted by the alleged rise in attacks from Trump supporters.
There were 1,211 antisemitic incidents in Obama’s first year in office. This was after four straight years of declining antisemitism. For instance, in 2008, there were 1,352 incidents. Attacks had peaked in 2004 with 1,821.
Over the years, the number of incidents continued to decline. After an initial uptick to 1,239 in 2010, they declined to 751 in 2013. They began to rise again to 914 in 2015, the last year for which we have data. When we tally the total number of incidents between 2009 and 2015, the overall number of attacks reaches more than 7,000. However, the number of assaults increased, almost doubling during the Obama administration.
Satire piece of the week
U.S.—A recent study performed by LifeWay Research confirmed Wednesday that one’s level of closeness to the almighty God was directly proportional to how often they loudly proclaim what they gave up for Lent this year.
The study surveyed thousands of Christians who take part in the Lent season, and compared their frequency of telling others on Facebook or in person about what they had sacrificed with the quality of their relationship to God.
“Subjects who post daily about how much they’re missing whatever it is they gave up for Lent were found to be much holier and further along in their walk with Christ,” a research associate said, adding that the results were consistent across the board, no matter how small or trivial the sacrifice was.
“People who didn’t participate in Lent at all, or did so without telling anyone about it, were found to have almost no relationship with God whatsoever in most cases.”
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