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Good Friday Morning! We’re outside the first round of the French Elections. A populist wave continues to move across Europe as French voters rejected their ruling political parties. Stateside, Donald Trump is moving quickly to push healthcare and tax reform through Congress while engaging the Senate on North Korea. Another active week in the age of Trump. Links follow.
The French Elections head to a run-off: Macron vs. Le Pen
Since I have a mostly American audience, I thought I’d use an analogy to drive home what is happening in French politics. Imagine a Presidential election where all the parties face off and only the top two people receiving votes move on. In American politics, the primary two candidates would always be a Democrat and a Republican. Let’s reimagine Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders running independent of the party system, and they both win top two of the race. In this scenario, Hilary Clinton, the direct successor to Barack Obama only wins around 7% of the vote. While Ted Cruz, successor to Bush, McCain, and Romney couldn’t crack 20%.
In this hypothetical, the two party system in America crumbled. Both sides would be shut out, and only outsiders would be running. The independents would be running as extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. The hypothetical is what has happened in France. For the first time in the history of the 5th Republic of France, both major parties are on the outside. The ruling Socialist Party won less than 10% of the vote. The Republican party won less than 20% of voters, and couldn’t overtake the far-right Marine Le Pen, of the National Front. The establishment parties lost definitively.
The leading candidate, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to win in the second round. French polls are typically more accurate than other European countries. The election represents a massive earthquake in French politics. Many commentators I’ve watched are pretending, because Macron is likely to win, that this isn’t a big deal. They are wrong, as Bloomberg notes:
French voters face two radically different visions of the country’s future after centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen won the first round of the French presidential election, triggering a runoff on May 7.
The result means that for the first time in modern French political history, both establishment parties were eliminated in the first round. … The outcome is a vindication for pollsters who successfully predicted the top two slots. It still represents an earthquake that will reshape French and potentially European politics for years to come. The rejection of the two main parties reflects the anger coursing through a society traumatized by Islamic terrorism and buffeted by years of sub-par economic growth and high unemployment.
“French voters are now putting their faith in unusual candidates, Macron and Le Pen,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, wrote in a note to clients after the vote. “The French presidential campaign has turned into a stinging rebuke of the traditional parties and their leaders.”
Macron represents an elite globalist in French culture. French media describes Macron as a centrist, even though by most calculations, he would keep France on its continual socialist path. Macron would likely keep most socialist policies in place and focus on reforming a few areas. Le Pen is the radical right faction of French politics. She’s not a conservative, though she may hold some conservative policies. I would agree with Tom Rogan at National Review that Le Pen mixes a dangerous cocktail of nationalism, identity politics, and state intervention that would lead to disastrous governance. People will inevitably compare Le Pen to Trump, but whereas Trump changes over time, Le Pen is a true believer. She does not falter in her thinking. She fervently believes in the far right style authoritarianism that her father brought to France.
While I am no fan of Le Pen, I also do not underestimate her or her movement. The French elections prove that France is in a volatile situation, just as the rest of Europe. Old demons of a perverse form of nationalism are coming back to haunt Europe. The ghosts of World War I and II are permeating European politics as economies stagnate. Europe has long believed it could paper over its past through enriching countries via trade. As the money dries up, unemployment remains high, and people lose faith in the EU, old fault lines are being laid bare.
Le Pen’s National Front and its ideology have slowly been gaining in France. The National Front went from 10.4% (2007) to 17.9% (2012) to around 21% now in the first round of elections. Le Pen is polling at 38% in the general election. So while she’s likely going to lose the Presidential election, a jump from 18% in 2012 to 38% in 2017 marks a massive leap forward for the National Front. It means that more than 1 in 3 French Voters are willing to jump on board with an extremist ideology. Even more troubling, Le Pen’s strongest support comes from French youth. That should raise numerous red flags for French leadership.
In a country like France, a base that gives you 38% of the vote gives you power. It would not be an indictment of Le Pen to lose. It would give her more power. European and international media pretend Le Pen is a fringe candidate who only made the top two because of a fractious field. Winning 38% of the vote makes her, and her ideas, mainstream. Emmanual Macron is unlikely to be the right man for the job to quell the populist fervor bubbling up in France. He’s an elite educated wall-street banker who is jumping into politics for the first time. He’s going to make mistakes, and he will not relate to the section of France that is siding heavily with Le Pen. Macron may only exacerbate the problems in French politics, paving the way for more radical candidates in the future.
The end point is this: Marine Le Pen is very likely to lose the French election. Do not trust any pundit who says that if she fails, that means the populist wave is receding. Macron will only paper over irreconcilable ideas and people in French society that are clawing their way into the spotlight. Macron may win, but it’s difficult to see him being the man France needs at this moment in time (nor is Le Pen for that matter). I believe the earthquake we’ve just witnessed in France is only the beginning. France will, at some point, have to deal with the ghosts of its past. Ideas and campaigns have consequences. If French youth hold Le Pen’s beliefs, then we are only witnessing the beginning of Le Pen’s movement. That should be a sobering thought for French politicians.
The Problem that is North Korea
In an odd situation this week, the Trump administration briefed the entire Senate at the White House on the situation in North Korea:
The White House said the meeting was intended to sound the alarm for senators about a situation that’s grown increasingly fraught in recent months. The meeting provided an opportunity “to communicate the seriousness of the threat from North Korea,” a senior administration official told reporters. It also allowed the senators to learn about responses the U.S. is considering to the “very grave threat” from a “brutal regime,” the official said.
The recent murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia with a chemical agent, and the secretive state’s advancing nuclear capabilities, have combined to put the administration on alert, the official said.
“We’re looking at a broad range of options obviously across all elements of national power and multi-national power in connection with North Korea,” the official said. “What you’ll see soon is using the economic dimension of national power, as well as the military preparations that are underway.”
There’s no question that tensions have been rising with regards to North Korea. But the briefing with the Senators didn’t bring up any information that wasn’t already public. So what’s going on? And why is this all happening now?
The most likely explanation is this: China. We know, for instance, that the North Koreans have built their nuclear weapons program on the back of Chinese-made parts and supplies. We also know the Chinese don’t enforce UN sanctions on North Korea. And because the Chinese aren’t bothering to enforce the sanctions, North Korea can get what it needs through the black market or China. The key to North Korea is China.
China enjoys having a nuclear North Korea in the region. It allows them to play a bad cop, worse cop game. By extension, the North Koreans tend to act up whenever the US and China have meaningful discussions. Trump spoke loud and clear throughout his campaign about playing hardball with China. As soon as he won, the North Koreans began acting up more raucously than they had in the immediate past. This forces Trump to go to the Chinese to get control over North Korea. If China forces North Korea to behave, China believes it can get favors and concessions out of the United States during negotiations.
The reason this dog and pony show works is that our allies in the region, Japan, and South Korea, depend directly on US military and foreign policy strength. Our aid and commerce with those countries are dependent on North Korea not acting out and dropping a nuke.
I tend to agree with George Friedman; we’re approaching the “witching hour” over North Korea. Tough decisions await us on handling North Korea in the long run. The United States cannot tolerate a rogue nation with nuclear weapons. Such country threatens not just our allies, but the United States itself. A nuclear-armed ICBM could hit Hawaii, Alaska, or even the west coast. Tokyo, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea also make for soft targets for the North Koreans.
I believe, for better or worse, US policy is settling on a unified Korea as the solution for North Korea. The US has a direct interest in removing China’s rogue attack dog. And uniting Korea would end the humanitarian disaster that is the North Korean government. I could easily see the Trump administration adopting this as the unofficial strategy towards North Korea.
Ideally, Trump wants to use trade negotiations with China as a means to force change. If you can offer a trade deal sweet enough, it could encourage the Chinese to enforce sanctions or agree to a regime change in North Korea. Diplomacy and trade are the best scenarios. They avoid war and the use of nuclear weapons. Diplomacy, trade and other carrots are the most likely avenues for Trump to pursue first. I suspect these carrots are what he is using in our dialogues with the Chinese.
The worst case scenario is the US is forced into military action to prevent North Korea from using a nuclear weapon. If the US believes a nuclear attack is imminent, then it must do everything in its power to stop an attack. An atomic bomb dropped on any major city within striking distance would lead to devastating consequences. Millions would perish. The fallout would affect the entire earth.
And while I may have a theory on how Trump could use diplomacy, trade, and sanctions to stop the North Koreans, Trump does not have the luxury of making decisions based on opinions. What if I’m wrong? If the US attacks the North Koreans, aside from the devastation of war, the worst Trump faces is a stern lecture from the UN. If North Korea can set off a nuclear explosion, millions will die. US strategy tilts towards preventing North Korea from using a nuclear weapon. Which tilts us towards conflict, not away. This type of strategic nuclear plan is unknown in today’s world. But if you jump back to just the 1980’s, schoolchildren were actively drilled on surviving a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.
The US cannot be challenged or intimidated by the North Koreans. We remain the preeminent Superpower in the world. We should find a means to defuse North Korea. Doing so will lead to a safer future for the US and our allies in Asia.
Trump pushes Obamacare Replacement Bill Round 2 and Tax Reform Round 1 all at once
It appears that Trump is attempting to pass two major pieces of legislation at once: 1) His first offer on tax reform, and 2) A revamped and amended Obamacare replacement bill. A vote may be attempted on the Healthcare Replacement bill this weekend, though the odds are low. The Healthcare legislation is being brought up again because Trump has compromised with the House Freedom Caucus. However, those wins are backfiring and sending moderate GOP members running:
Many vulnerable Republicans are running scared. One moderate Republican was overheard in a House cafeteria this week telling an aide: “If I vote for this healthcare bill, it will be the end of my career.”
There are also significant doubts about whether the legislation would go anywhere in the Senate. Several Senate Republicans have raised questions about the bill, making it unclear whether it could win 50 votes in the upper chamber.
And Senate Democrats have said that parts of the bill, including the new language, would run afoul of special budget rules the GOP is using to avoid a filibuster. That means those sections might have to be ripped out of the bill to prevent it from being dead on arrival in the Senate.
In other words, the concessions towards the House Freedom Caucus, who don’t face hard re-elections, are making it difficult for moderate Republicans to survive. The House Freedom Caucus may assume they’re standing on the principled ground. All they’re doing is encouraging a loss of House seats. If you want this bill to be the only legislation passed on Obamacare, follow the House Freedom Caucus. The bill may pass the House. But if it fails in the Senate, all the bill will do is anger voters towards House Representatives.
The tax reform plan is Trump’s opening bid on pushing legislation through both chambers. CNN released the one-page summary handed out to all Senators and Representatives. The points are:
- Reduce the seven tax brackets for individual payers down to three: 10%, 25%, and 35%.
- Double the standard deduction
- Eliminate deductions that target mainly the wealthy
- Maintain the home mortgage and charity deductions
- Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
- Repeal the “Death Tax.”
- Repeal the Obamacare 3.8% tax on businesses and investment income
- Lower the corporate tax rate to 15%
- One time tax on cash held overseas.
There are other vague concepts included as well, like protecting people with families and children. As well as other language directed at eliminating deductions for “special interests.” Most of this language is too vague to argue over until we get details. One man’s deduction is another man’s tax loophole. I’m expecting the media to report this plan as “tax cuts for the wealthy.” It’s the same canard they trot out for every tax cut proposed in Congress for the past 75 years.
As an aside, if you want an excellent study on media bias, read: “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind” by Dr. Tim Groseclose, Professor of Political Science and Economics, formerly at UCLA, now at George Mason University. He’s written and defended one of the only peer-reviewed studies of media bias in all academia. He uses the Bush tax cuts as a sample story to explain how the news media only reported on “Tax cuts for the wealthy,” while ignoring all other positive outcomes for other tax groups. It’s an enlightening and scholarly read.
The key to Trump’s plan is this: It’s an opening offer, not a final offer. The last section of the one-page summary says Trump intends to go on a listening tour in May to get input on tax reform. Expect Trump to use this listening tour to change direction on the reform plan as needed to maintain support. He’ll also use the trip as a way to send out “test balloons” on cutting certain tax deductions. If removing a given deduction gets bad reviews, he’ll give up on it and try cutting other deductions. In short, don’t expect anything to get passed soon on tax or healthcare reform. No one in Congress loves any plan, and there are a lot of details to get worked out; details that will determine approval polls and Congressional votes.
Links for your radar
The fallout continues at the Fox News Channel: “O’Reilly protege Jesse Waters takes an abrupt “vacation” after making thinly veiled sexual innuendo remarks about Ivanka Trump” – CBS News, and “More Management Shake-up Looming at Fox News?” – NYMag
Just a week after his boss, Bill O’Reilly, was forced out at Fox, Jesse Waters said:
“It’s funny, the left says they really respect women, and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss.” But Watters was accused of making a sexual joke when he made a hand gesture in front of his face and said, “I don’t really get what’s going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone,” with a chuckle.
As I wrote last week, Fox News doesn’t have a good name anymore. Fox is being judged by the moral standards it blasts liberals and the media for not owning. Fox doesn’t have the leeway to ignore Waters. This on-air segment only builds more of a case that Fox has a hostile culture and work environment. It wouldn’t shock me if Waters were forced to apologize or resign for his remarks next week. Fox has to rebuild its name and culture; Waters is only sinking them further (and it is not the first time for him). The Waters episode underscores the issues at the network, and why the Murdochs are refusing to support current company co-president, Bill Shine:
By refusing to back Shine at this tumultuous moment for the network, the Murdochs may finally be signaling that they’re prepared to make the sweeping management changes they’ve so far resisted after forcing out CEO Roger Ailes last summer. Shine’s continued leadership has angered many Fox News employees, especially women, who view him as a product of the misogynistic Ailes culture.
There’s a lot of fallout and cleanup awaiting the Fair and Balanced network. O’Reilly and Ailes are just the beginning.
Generation O’Reilly – The American Conservative
It’s hard to exaggerate what effect the transition from major network news to Fox News had. It’s not that my parents’ actual views changed… Though never fundamentalists, they’d always been more or less part of “the Religious Right,” and my parents would always grumble about the liberal bias of mainstream media.
What changed was the intensity with which they held those views. Politics went from a significant but not at all central part of daily discourse to the overwhelmingly #1 concern. The amount of time my parents spent talking (and, presumably, thinking) about politics skyrocketed. As did the level of frustration and anger and vitriol. My parents seemed constantly angry about things over which they had zero control, bitter about matters that had nothing to do with them.
A few years later–recognizing that it was not a healthy influence–my parents got rid of the Dish. At some point my mom remarked that her stress levels had considerably lowered since she stopped watching Fox News. Since then they’ve gone back-and-forth with Dish or cable–one year they’ll have it, the next year they ditch it. But they’ve never returned to binge-watching Fox News.
Understanding the Geopolitics of Nuclear Weapons – George Friedman
Nuclear bombs are in their own category of weapon. They are useful in that they deter aggression. The potential for massive destruction on both sides forces countries to rethink moves that may threaten an adversary’s national security interests.
If North Korea’s used a nuclear weapon, its deterrent capability would be gone. This would be akin to committing certain suicide.
It is true that many fear the irrational North Korean leadership. But Geopolitical Futures’ current view of the regime is that it has existed for decades because it is able to make cautious calculations and has continued to choose not to inflict destruction on itself.
The Golden Age of Phony: Virtue signaling is a primal scream of self-righteousness – The American Conservative
The popular line on politics goes something like this: politicians are self-serving, institutions are self-preserving, and government is broken. In better times, this type of dissatisfaction inspired leaders to find policy breakthroughs that improved the country. But as we head deeper into this divisive era, theatrical anger and phony moral outrage are becoming ends unto themselves. Leaders are demonstrating their leadership by digging in and demonizing their partners across the aisle, while the whole country plays the blame game for who’s really responsible for our dysfunctional government. Whether it’s Donald Trump blaming immigrants, Bernie Sanders blaming “millionaires and billionaires,” or normal Americans blaming politicians, the en vogue explanation of what’s wrong with America usually points the finger at someone else.
But this view misses one of the absolute certainties of politics: voters tend to get what they want. Democracy might not be responsive to the nation’s needs, but it’s almost always responsive to the voters’ wants. If people want low taxes and generous entitlements, they can have them. That’s one reason why we’re now $20 trillion in debt. And if voters want their politicians to be angry and emotional—if they want them to demagogue about “American carnage,” as the president has, or to label disagreements between parties as a “constitutional crisis” as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has—then that’s what they’ll get.
This dependence on anger and emotion in politics has given birth to a new term: virtue signaling. Virtue signaling is not a scientific concept. It’s a hokey litmus test that public figures give, and it’s the opposite of a wink-and-nod.
Who Does the Anne Frank Center Represent? – The Atlantic
“BREAKING NEWS: SEAN SPICER DENIES HITLER GASSED JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST,” the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote in all-caps on Facebook. “MR. PRESIDENT, FIRE SEAN SPICER NOW.” Weeks earlier, the center had slammed Donald Trump for being slow to condemn a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers—“a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” it said—and the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of news outlets picked up the statements, and the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, was all over television. After all, this was the American organization that speaks for Anne Frank, the teenaged author of the world-famous diary about her life in hiding in Amsterdam before she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.
Or does it speak for her? The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, known until about a year ago as the Anne Frank Center USA, is a small organization of about nine staffers. It is independent from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which memorializes Anne’s hiding place, and is not connected at all to the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss organization that owns the rights to Anne’s diary. Before Goldstein officially became executive director in June 2016, the center was an obscure educational organization with a tiny storefront museum in New York City that few visited. And though the organization claims it was founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, in 1959, the organization’s own historical documentation and people who were part of its founding say it was actually started in 1977, and Otto Frank had no direct involvement.
Two Michigan doctors and the wife of one have been charged with performing female genital procedures on a pair of seven-year-old girls.
Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, were arrested Friday at their medical office in Livonia, Mich., outside Detroit and charged with three federal criminal counts including conspiracy, female genital mutilation and aiding and abetting, according to CNN. In addition, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, an emergency room doctor, was taken into custody April 12 and is being held awaiting trial after a federal judge determined she was a flight risk.
Female genital mutilation is a painful surgical procedure designed to suppress female sexuality. Investigators believe the three belong to a “religious and cultural community” that performs the banned procedure on young girls. But the mosque the Attars belong to deny any advocacy of FGM. “Any violation of US law is counter to instructions to our community members,” a statement released by the sect Dawoodi Bohras said. “It is an important rule of the Dawoodi Bohras that we respect the laws of the land, wherever we live. This is precisely what we have done for several generations in America. We remind our members regularly of their obligations.”
The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think – Politico
What went so wrong? What’s still wrong? To some conservatives, Trump’s surprise win on November 8 simply bore out what they had suspected, that the Democrat-infested press was knowingly in the tank for Clinton all along. The media, in this view, was guilty not just of confirmation bias but of complicity. But the knowing-bias charge never added up: No news organization ignored the Clinton emails story, and everybody feasted on the damaging John Podesta email cache that WikiLeaks served up buffet-style. Practically speaking, you’re not pushing Clinton to victory if you’re pantsing her and her party to voters almost daily.
The answer to the press’ myopia lies elsewhere, and nobody has produced a better argument for how the national media missed the Trump story than FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who pointed out that the ideological clustering in top newsrooms led to groupthink. “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans,” Silver wrote in March, chiding the press for its political homogeneity. Just after the election, presidential strategist Steve Bannon savaged the press on the same point but with a heartier vocabulary. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” Bannon said. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no fucking idea what’s going on.”
But journalistic groupthink is a symptom, not a cause. And when it comes to the cause, there’s another, blunter way to think about the question than screaming “bias” and “conspiracy,” or counting D’s and R’s. That’s to ask a simple question about the map. Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years?
These days, the debate over free speech on campus centers largely on loud, chaotic incidents like the riots at UC Berkeley in response to Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned talk, or the smaller but also violent incident at Middlebury College sparked by Charles Murray’s visit there. It’s understandable why events like this garner so much media attention, but, in reality, there are a host of other free-speech issues on college campuses that are far quieter, and which don’t always follow the usual, oft-condemned, “The left is trying to shut down the right!” script. That doesn’t mean they’re less important.
Take, for example, a lawsuit announced yesterday by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal, legal organizations that deal with progressive issues and with Palestinian advocacy, respectively. Those two organizations are helping a group of Fordham University students sue the school over its protracted attempts to delay and then kibosh the creation of a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestinian civil-rights and advocacy group. The case is a useful reminder of the arbitrary, discriminatory speech standards that can take hold when free-speech norms erode in a given community — or, in the case of Fordham, were never that strong in the first place.
There is something about the fixation on the Michael Flynn story that doesn’t add up. It doesn’t look great that in January 2016, the future Trump national security adviser did not disclose payments he received from Russia’s propaganda network, RT, on his application to renew his security clearance.
But he did brief the government in 2015 about his trip to Moscow to speak at RT’s annual gala that December — and in April of last year, with that information in hand, the Obama administration renewed Flynn’s top-secret security clearance.
All of this is important because Democrats are insinuating that Flynn was one of the links between President Donald Trump and Russia, potentially contributing to collusion in the 2016 election.
Among the drip-drip of leaks about ongoing probes, none has indicated that Flynn played a role in Russia’s influence operation against the Democrats last year. But because Flynn did not disclose his payment from Russia’s propaganda network and because he is accused of not telling his White House colleagues that he discussed U.S. sanctions before taking office, partisans now freely tar Flynn as a Russian agent.
Satire piece of the week
RAQQA, Syria — A massive scandal has rocked the self-proclaimed Islamic State after reports surfaced revealing that many of the group’s fighters have been sharing scandalous photos of Muslim females in a secret Facebook group.
The Facebook group, called ‘ISIS United,’ boasts some 30,000 Islamic State fighters and sympathizers. At least one hundred members have used the group as a forum to post pictures of scantily-clad women wearing revealing hijabs instead of the more conservative burqas prescribed by strict Sharia Law.
“This is outrageous and will not be tolerated,” said Rasool ul Mulaahim, a spokesman for the Islamic State. “Not only do these photos show eyes, but also noses and mouths. Nothing has been left to the imagination.”
In the Islamic State, men are forbidden from gazing upon the faces of women unless they come into ownership of them by forcing them into an arranged marriage.
Thanks for reading!