American Thinkers

Environment and Economics …

Posted on September 20, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Business, Guide Posts |

George Monbiot in The Guardian

There was “a flaw” in the theory – this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had been proved wrong.

Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting for some time.

Similarly, Milton Friedman, an architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided.

But there’s a flaw.

Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it.

It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction.

The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

Environmental collapse does not progress by neat increments. You can estimate the money you might make from building an airport: this is likely to be linear and fairly predictable. But you cannot reasonably estimate the environmental cost the airport might incur.

Climate breakdown will behave like a tectonic plate in an earthquake zone: periods of comparative stasis followed by sudden jolts.

Any attempt to compare economic benefit with economic cost in such cases is an exercise in false precision. Even to discuss such flaws is a kind of blasphemy, because the theory allows no role for political thought or for action.

The system is supposed to operate not through deliberate human agency, but through the automatic writing of the invisible hand. Our choice is confined to deciding which goods and services to buy. But even this is illusory.

A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions.

After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse.

You can now buy a selfie toaster, that burns an image of your own face on to your bread – the Turin Shroud of toast.

You can buy beer for dogs and wine for cats; a toilet roll holder that sends a message to your phone when the paper is running out; a $30 branded brick; a hairbrush that informs you whether or not you are brushing your hair correctly. Panasonic intends to produce a mobile fridge that, in response to a voice command, will deliver beers to your chair.

Urge, splurge, purge: we are sucked into a cycle of compulsion followed by consumption, followed by the periodic detoxing of ourselves or our homes, like Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in.

Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated.

Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element. The environmental crisis is an inevitable result not just of neoliberalism – the most extreme variety of capitalism – but of capitalism itself.

Even the social democratic (Keynesian) kind depends on perpetual growth on a finite planet: a formula for eventual collapse. But the peculiar contribution of neoliberalism is to deny that action is necessary: to insist that the system, like Greenspan’s financial markets, is inherently self-regulating.

The myth of the self-regulating market accelerates the destruction of the self-regulating Earth. What cannot be admitted must be denied.

Ten years ago this week, Matt Ridley – as chair of Northern Rock – helped to cause the first run on a British bank since 1878. This triggered the financial crisis in the UK. Now, in his new incarnation as a Times columnist, he continues to demonstrate his unerring ability to assess risk, by insisting that we needn’t worry about hurricanes: as long as there’s enough money to keep bailing us out, we’ll be fine.

Ridley, who helped destroy the hopes of millions, is one of the faces of the New Optimism that claims life is becoming inexorably better. This vision relies on downplaying or dismissing the predictions of environmental scientists.

We cannot buy our way out of a process that could, through a combination of heat stress, aridity, sea level rise and crop failure, render large parts of the inhabited world hostile to human life; and which, through sudden jolts, could translate environmental crisis into financial crisis.

The sigh of relief from insurers and financiers when Irma changed course could be heard around the world. In April Bloomberg News, drawing on a Report by the US Federal Mortgage Corporation Freddie Mac, investigated the possibility that climate breakdown could cause a collapse in real estate prices in Florida.

It looked only at the impact of sea-level rise – hurricanes were not considered. It warned that a bursting of the coastal property bubble “could spread through banks, insurers and other industries. And, unlike the recession, there’s no hope of a bounce back in property values.”

The sigh of relief from insurers and financiers when Hurricane Irma, whose intensity is likely to have been enhanced by global heating, changed course at the last minute could be heard around the world.

This year, for the first time, three of the five global risks with the greatest potential impact listed by the World Economic Forum were environmental; a fourth (water crises) has a strong environmental component. If an economic crisis is caused by the environmental crisis, it will be the second crash in which Ridley will have played a part.

They bailed out the banks. But as the storms keep rolling in, you’ll have to bail out your own flooded home. There is no environmental rescue plan: to admit the need for one would be to admit that the economic system is based on a series of delusions.

The environmental crisis demands a new ethics, politics and economics. A few of us are groping towards it, but it cannot be left to the scattered efforts of independent thinkers – this should be Humanity’s Central Project.

At least the first step is clear: to recognise that the current system is flawed.

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China – Malaysia Stands Up …

Posted on September 12, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Chinese Wisdom |

When Indonesia recently — and quite publicly — renamed the northernmost waters of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea despite China’s claims to the area, Beijing quickly dismissed the move as “meaningless.” It is proving to be anything but.

Indonesia’s increasingly aggressive posture in the region — including a military buildup in its nearby Natuna Islands and the planned deployment of naval warships — comes as other nations are being more accommodating to China’s broad territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The two countries had three maritime skirmishes in 2016 involving warning shots, including one in which Indonesian warships seized a Chinese fishing boat and its crew.

Indonesia is challenging China, one of its biggest investors and trading partners, as it seeks to assert control over a waterway that has abundant resources, particularly oil and natural gas reserves and fish stocks.

The pushback from Indonesia takes direct aim at Beijing’s claims within the so-called “nine-dash line,” which on Chinese maps delineates the vast area that China claims in the South China Sea. It also adds a new player to the volatile situation, in which the United States Navy has been challenging China’s claims with naval maneuvers through waters claimed by Beijing.

Indonesia “is already a party to the disputes — and the sooner it acknowledges this reality the better,” said Ian J. Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, where he researches South China Sea issues.

The dispute largely centers on the Natuna Sea, a resource-rich waterway north of Indonesia that also lies close to Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Before naming part of the contested waterway the North Natuna Sea “to make it sound more Indonesian,” Mr. Storey said, Indonesia last year began beefing up its military presence in the Natunas. That included expanding its naval port on the main island to handle bigger ships and lengthening the runway at its air force base there to accommodate larger aircraft.

For decades, Indonesia’s official policy has been that it is not a party to any territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, unlike its regional neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Last year, however, Indonesia and China had the three maritime skirmishes within Indonesia’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands, which lie northwest of Borneo.

After the third skirmish, in June 2016, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which it claimed for the first time that its controversial nine-dash line included “traditional fishing grounds” within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

The administration of the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, whose top administrative priorities since taking office in October 2014 include transforming his country into a maritime power, has ordered the authorities to blow up hundreds of foreign fishing vessels seized while illegally fishing in Indonesian waters.

Mr. Joko, during a visit to Japan in 2015, said in a newspaper interview that China’s nine-dash line had no basis in international law. He also chaired a cabinet meeting on a warship off the Natunas just days after last year’s third naval skirmish — a move analysts viewed as a show of resolve to Beijing.

On July 14, Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries held a conspicuously high-profile news conference to release its first national territorial map since 2005, including the unveiling of the newly named North Natuna Sea. The new map also included new maritime boundaries with Singapore and the Philippines, with which Indonesia had concluded agreements in 2015.

Arif Havas Oegroseno, a deputy minister at Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told journalists that the new Indonesian map offered “clarity on natural resources exploration areas.”

That same day, Indonesia’s Armed Forces and Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources signed a memorandum for warships to provide security for the highly profitable fishing grounds and offshore oil and gas production and exploration activities within the country’s exclusive economic zone near the Natunas.

Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, the commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, said at the time that offshore energy exploration and production activities “have often been disturbed by foreign-flagged vessels” — which some analysts took as a reference to China.

Although several countries take issue with China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, few do so publicly, and the Trump administration has recently sent mixed signals about how willing it is to challenge China on its claims. That has made the Indonesian pushback more intriguing.

Frega Ferdinand Wenas Inkiriwang, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, said Indonesia’s public naming of the North Natuna Sea “means that Indonesia indirectly becomes a claimant state in the area, perhaps due to territorial integrity issues.”

“It’s in the vicinity of the Natunas,” he said, “and the Natunas contain natural resources which are inherited and will be beneficial for Indonesia’s development.”

Analysts say that the Indonesian Navy would be no match for the Chinese Navy in a fight, although the first of last year’s clashes involved only a Chinese Coast Guard ship and an Indonesian maritime ministry patrol boat. It is unlikely that the two countries’ navies would clash within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, according to analysts.

Members of the 10-state Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, have repeatedly expressed concern about China’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea, including its naval standoffs and land reclamation projects in disputed areas, and the stationing of military personnel and surface-to-air missiles in the Paracel Islands — which are controlled by China but are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Indonesia, the grouping’s largest member and de facto leader, had in the past remained on the sidelines of the various South China Sea disputes and offered to help mediate between Asean claimant states and Beijing.

Given that China is among Indonesia’s biggest investors and trade partners, some analysts say Jakarta will go only so far in challenging China’s territorial claims, at least publicly. But its more aggressive military posture and other moves regarding the Natunas are nonetheless sending signals to China.

“It doesn’t make Indonesia a claimant state,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia, who follows the South China Sea disputes. “They’ve never accepted the legitimacy of the nine-dash line, which is why they say there’s no overlap” with its exclusive economic zone.

“China says it has ‘traditional fishing rights,’ but Indonesia is doing things in a legalistic way right now,” Mr. Connelly said. “This is a more effective way of challenging it.”

Evan A. Laksmana, a senior researcher on security affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, agreed that the naming of the North Natuna Sea was not specifically done to trigger a dispute with China.

“But the international legal basis underpinning Indonesia’s new map is clear,” he said.

“We do not recognize China’s claims in the Natuna waters — we don’t feel like we should negotiate our map with Beijing or ask their

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China Japan Relations …

Posted on September 10, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Chinese Wisdom, Searching for Success |

From WSJ …

Put yourself in the shoes of a Chinese strategist, pondering ways to check and undermine the dominant role that the U.S. has maintained in East Asia since the end of World War II.

Beijing has already built a navy to challenge the U.S. on the oceans and established military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea. As President Donald Trump causes alarm among U.S. allies world-wide, China is also trying to peel Asian neighbors like the Philippines away from the U.S. and bring them into a new Sinocentric club.

But Beijing has never really tried the one move that could, at a stroke, devastate American interests in the region and, by extension, the world: disentangling Japan from its longtime security alliance with the U.S. If China could reassure Japan about its security, Washington’s standing as Asia’s superpower would be gravely diminished.

Why, then, has China so consistently radiated hostility toward Japan instead of trying to seduce it?

The conventional explanation is that Beijing doesn’t dare reach out to Tokyo because the Chinese remain collectively furious over Japan’s aggression and atrocities during World War II and the country’s subsequent refusal to apologize for them. But this view doesn’t hold up.

For decades after 1945, China didn’t seek an official apology. Beijing changed its tune only when it became more powerful from the 1980s onward and found a source of strategic leverage in reminding Japan of its past crimes. More to the point, since Beijing started demanding apologies for Tokyo’s wartime behavior, Japan has repeatedly given them—but to little effect.

The real obstacle to a reconciliation between China and Japan lies in the way that their toxic wars over history have become caught up in both countries’ domestic politics, exacerbating their natural rivalry as Asia’s two great powers.

In the early 1990s, with China’s Communist Party seeking to rebuild its credentials after the bloody 1989 crackdown on antigovernment demonstrators across the country, Beijing sanctioned a relentless diet of anti-Japanese propaganda. A besieged party eager to rally the masses saw no better vehicle than reviving attacks on the “historical criminal,” Japan.

Over time, policy toward Japan has become so sensitive that any Chinese official who advocates reconciliation risks career suicide. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also Beijing’s pre-eminent Japan expert, speaks Japanese well— but he avoids doing so in public, lest he draw personal attacks.

Chinese diplomats and scholars know the dangers of advocating rapprochement with Tokyo. “If you [say] any nice words about Japan, then you will get an angry reaction from students,” said Chu Shulong of Tsinghua University.

Studying America is less fraught, he adds: “People might not agree with me, but they never call you a traitor.”

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21st Century Capitalism – Google vs Apple …

Posted on August 27, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers |

MIHIR A. DESAI JUL 10, 2017 Capitalism the Apple Way vs. Capitalism the Google Way.Whichever company’s vision wins out will shape the future of the economy.

While lots of attention is directed toward identifying the next great start-up, the defining tech-industry story of the last decade has been the rise of Apple and Google. In terms of wealth creation, there is no comparison. Eight years ago, neither one of them was even in the top 10 most valuable companies in the world, and their combined market value was less than $300 billion.

Now, Apple and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) have become the two most valuable companies, with a combined market capitalization of over $1.3 trillion. And increasingly, these two behemoths are starting to collide in various markets, from smartphones to home-audio devices to, according to speculation, automobiles.

But the greatest collision between Apple and Google is little noticed. The companies have taken completely different approaches to their shareholders and to the future, one willing to accede to the demands of investors and the other keeping power in the hands of founders and executives. These rival approaches are about something much bigger than just two of the most important companies in the world; they embody two alternative models of capitalism, and the one that wins out will shape the future of the economy.

In the spring of 2012, Toni Sacconaghi, a respected equity-research analyst, released a report that contemplated a radical move for Apple. He, along with other analysts, had repeatedly been pushing Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, to consider returning some of Apple’s stockpile of cash, which approached $100 billion by the end of 2011, to shareholders. Cook, and Steve Jobs before him, had resisted similar calls so that the company could, in the words of Jobs, “keep their powder dry” and take advantage of “more strategic opportunities in the future.”

But there was another reason Apple wouldn’t so readily part with this cash: The majority of it was in Ireland because of the company’s fortuitous creation of Apple Operations International in Ireland in 1980. Since then, the vast majority of Apple’s non-U.S. profits had found their way to the country, and tapping into that cash would mean incurring significant U.S. taxes due upon repatriation to American soil. So Sacconaghi floated a bold idea: Apple should borrow the $100 billion in the U.S., and then pay it out to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks. The unusual nature of the proposal attracted attention among financiers and served Sacconaghi’s presumed purpose, ratcheting up the pressure on Cook. A week later, Apple relented and announced plans to begin releasing cash via dividends.

The results of Sacconaghi’s report were not lost on Silicon Valley, and Google responded three weeks later. At the time, the share structure that the company put in place when it went public in 2004 was becoming fragile. This original arrangement allowed Google’s founders to maintain voting control over the company, even as their share of ownership shrunk as more shares were issued. The explicit premise was that this structure would “protect Google from outside pressures and the temptation to sacrifice future opportunities to meet short-term demands.”

How to Stop Short-Term Thinking at America’s Companies

But by the time of Apple’s announcement in March 2012, this bulwark against outside influence was eroding, as Google’s founders continued to sell stock and employees were issued shares in their compensation packages. A few weeks after Apple’s concession to shareholders, the founders of Google announced a new share structure that would defend against a similar situation: The structure gave the founders’ shares 10 times the voting power of regular shares, ensuring they’d dictate the company’s strategy long into the future and that Google was, in the words of the founders, “set up for success for decades to come.”

What has happened to Google and Apple in the wake of these events is the defining story of early 21st-century capitalism. Apple’s decision in 2012 to begin paying dividends didn’t satiate shareholders—it sparked a wider revolt. Several hedge funds started asking for much larger payouts, with some of them filing suits against Apple and even proposing an “iPref”—a new type of share that would allow Apple to release much more cash in a way that didn’t incur as high of a tax bill. In 2013 and 2014, Apple upped its commitments to distribute cash. From 2013 to March 2017, the company released $200 billion via dividends and buybacks—an amount that is equivalent to, using figures in S&P’s Capital IQ database, more than 72 percent of their operating cash flow (a common metric of performance that is about cash generation rather than profit accrual) during that period. And to help finance this, Apple took on $99 billion in debt. Sacconaghi’s vision had come true.

What has Google done in that same period? Google is, like Apple, making loads of money. From 2013 to March 2017, it generated $114 billion in operating cash flow. How much has the company distributed to shareholders? In contrast to Apple’s 72 percent payout rate, Google has only distributed 6 percent of that money to shareholders.

The paths taken by Apple and Google manifest alternative answers to one of the main questions facing capitalism today: What should public companies do with all of the money that they’re making? Even as corporations have brought in enormous profits, there has been a shortage of lucrative opportunities for investment and growth, creating surpluses of cash. This imbalance has resulted in the pileup of $2 trillion on corporate balance sheets. As companies continue to generate more profits than they need to fund their own growth, the question becomes: Who will decide what to do with all those profits—managers or investors? At Google, where the founders and executives reign supreme, insulated by their governance structure, the answer is the former. At Apple, where the investors are in charge because of the absence of one large manager-shareholder, it’s the latter. (To be clear, even though Apple’s previous efforts to stifle investors’ concerns were no longer tenable, the company can still afford to spend mightily on research and development.)

Why has each company taken the approach that it has? These two strategies reflect different reactions to an issue central to modern capitalism, the separation of ownership and control. In short, owners aren’t managers, as they once were when businesses existed on a smaller scale. And when owners have to outsource running the company to executives, this leads to what economists call “the principal-agent problem,” which refers to the issues that come up when one person, group, or company—an “agent”—can make decisions that significantly affect another—a “principal.”

Having investors dominate, as Apple does, is a good way of handling one principal-agent problem: getting managers to do right by their owners. Rather than spending money on failed products (remember Google Plus?) or managers’ pet projects, Apple has to face the disciplining force of large investors. In a way that individual shareholders would have trouble doing, larger investors can act swiftly to put a check on managers who might pursue goals that enrich themselves, such as wasteful mergers, excessive executive compensation, or lush perks. And, after all, a company’s profits theoretically belong to investors, so why shouldn’t they decide how they are put to use?

Proponents of the managerial model embodied by Google worry about a different principal-agent problem. Rather than being concerned about managers ignoring investors, they are concerned that investors won’t serve the people who would benefit from the long-term success of the company. Those professional investors are both the principals for the CEOs but also the agents of many other shareholders. The hedge funds that pressured Apple are the dreaded “short-term” investors who are interested only in quick wins and don’t serve their longer-term beneficiaries, such as pension funds, that allocate capital to them in the first place. As investors, hedge funds are impatient, and, the argument goes, ruining the economy by shortening time horizons.

Who’s right? Which principal-agent problem is more vexing? Stock-market returns are one, albeit imperfect, way of answering this question and since the initial developments, Google has far outperformed Apple. But that pattern is flipped if the time frame is restricted to the past year. So it won’t be known for many years to come if Apple or Google has a sharper financial strategy.

More importantly, though, how do these strategies impact the lives of everyday people? A capitalist system aims for the efficient allocation of capital, and indeed, workers have a better shot at seeing median wages increase when money is being put to its most productive use. So to an extent, how they fare under each system has to do with who is deciding where and how profits get invested. When managers reallocate profits, that reallocation benefits from the capabilities and knowledge that companies have built over decades, but suffers from the possibly poor incentives of managers. When investors are the ones reallocating profits, however, the scope of the reallocation can be broader, theoretically leading to more innovation; at the same time, those investors don’t have preexisting organizational capabilities and they may suffer from their own short-term time horizons.

Even if one considers the disparities in the shares of wealth accruing to labor and capital problematic—and there certainly are other strategies for addressing those disparities—making sure that managers and investors are dividing their responsibilities on capital allocation efficiently is critical for making the economic pie as big as it can be. And in that regard, while the problems of Google’s model are significant, they are also well appreciated. The excesses of Apple’s model and the widespread deployment of share buybacks are just as dangerous—and not nearly as well understood.

So which model of capitalism will win out? The dominant corporate-finance pattern for the last decade has been Apple’s. Companies have been distributing cash via share buybacks and have borrowed money to finance these distributions at a rapid rate. As American stalwarts such as Deere, IBM, Amgen, and 3M cede power to investors, it’s like watching leveraged buyouts unfold in slow motion.

The importance of these two models might soon escalate dramatically. There’s a real possibility that tax reform at the federal level will unlock the offshore cash that corporations have amassed, and the subsequent flood of money will have to be reallocated in the economy—somewhere, somehow.

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Trump toys with Afghanistan …

Posted on August 27, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

From toe New York Times –

Here was Donald Trump tethered by his generals. The new-old Afghan war strategy set out by the president Monday night contained a Trump line or two — terrorists as “losers,” the nixing of “nation-building” — but was the work of the adults in the room. They forced the commander-in-chief to curtail his wilder instincts.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, both have bitter experience of Afghanistan. John Kelly, the chief of staff, lost his 29-year-old son, First Lt. Robert Kelly, there. They were not about to let Trump declare Afghanistan “a complete waste,” as he did in 2012, and walk away.

In a sense this is reassuring. Trump is not home alone. He fires off, gets a lesson on the real world, bridles again, and is momentarily muted. Qatar, North Korea, Iran and Charlottesville: the pattern repeats itself. It’s ominous but it has not sent the world over a cliff, yet.

And now we have Afghanistan, the nearly 16-year-old war that just became Trump’s war, against the wishes of Steve Bannon, his ousted chief strategist.

The decision not to leave was the right decision; and Trump was also right to note that telegraphing future pullout dates for American troops, as President Obama did, is military folly. Ashraf Ghani, the embattled Afghan president, needs United States help in holding the line against an invigorated Taliban. But what Trump announced did not amount to a strategy, let alone a new one. It amounted rather, in the tweeted words of Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, to “a set of incoherent slogans.”

When we went into Afghanistan, we were told of the importance of rooting out Al Qaida and finding Ben Laden. Those were doable and…

Trump talked plenty about “victory” but did not even attempt to define what would constitute it. That’s because there can be no military victory in Afghanistan. The best that can be hoped for is keeping the Taliban from power, and bolstering government forces to the point the Taliban can be persuaded to sue for peace. In other words, the end game can only be diplomatic.

Yet Trump has eviscerated the State Department. He has not named an ambassador to Afghanistan; he has eliminated the office of the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has shown no inclination to engage allies or Afghanistan’s neighbors on ways to end the war.

While the President talked distantly of reaching “a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban,” his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was explicit about supporting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban “without preconditions”: the usual disconnect.

Iran could have been helpful; Trump has rebuffed it in his Saudi love trance. Russia could have been helpful; Trump is paralyzed by his Moscow secrets with respect to President Vladimir V. Putin. So Iran and Russia will do their worst in Afghanistan. As for China, another important regional player, it did not even get a mention.

Trump invited India “to help us more with Afghanistan” — effectively holding a red rag to the Pakistani bull. The military in Pakistan will be enraged by the combination of Trump’s blunt (if justified) criticism and blandishments to India. This looks like sheer diplomatic stupidity. I wonder if the State Department, whose expertise has been flouted since January, even got to vet the speech.

The Afghan war could have been ended a long time ago when people still remembered what it was about. But the United States diverted its forces and treasure to Iraq. Then Obama, in preparing to withdraw from Iraq, tried to compensate with a hapless “surge” in Afghanistan. This is a zigzagging chapter in American military history that soldiers are not about to resolve now. The mission became a mess; some 2,400 American troops have given their lives for a moving target. Trump’s words did nothing to redress this shame.

“Trump put forward no coherent plan for finishing the war,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told me. “He needs a serious diplomatic tack.”

The problem is Trump has no notion of diplomacy. He looked like an impersonator as he spoke, a man pretending to be something we know he’s not. A man of such evident moral shallowness, to whom personal sacrifice is a stranger, cannot speak of valor, bravery and heroism without becoming cringe-worthy.

He spoke of “principled realism.” His presidency has been about unprincipled recklessness: allies shunned, dalliances with dictators, environmental sabotage. The man who earlier this month could not distinguish between neo-Nazi white supremacists with blood on their hands and leftist protesters calls for America’s soldiers to come home to a country that rejects bigotry and “has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty.”

Really?

Shortly after Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, lost his son in Afghanistan, he gave a eulogy for two marines killed in Iraq. Kelly described how, confronted by a suicide bomber in a truck, “they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight.”

For that brave act, of course, they needed something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.

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The BBC on TRUMP …

Posted on August 24, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities |

From Katty Kay, BBC –

There’s been some speculation recently that Donald Trump’s luck is finally running out and his support among Republicans is about to collapse. I don’t buy it.
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There is almost no indication in a slew of post-Charlottesville polls that President Trump’s supporters are on the verge of abandoning him.
Indeed, I was told by a Wisconsin-based reporter this week that his support among Republicans has increased there. That makes total sense to me.
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To understand why somewhere between 35-38% of Americans consistently approve of the job Mr Trump is doing, you need to reframe the way you look at his voters.
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It’s not what they are for that matters, it’s what they are against. So it’s not that a third of US voters are fervently on the side of Donald Trump – what’s more relevant is that they are adamantly on the opposing side of a culture war that’s been brewing here since the 1980s.
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Look at it like that and you can see why it doesn’t really matter what Mr Trump achieves or doesn’t achieve. He defies the normal metrics for success because his voters don’t so much support him for what he does as they adore him for what he’s against.
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Mr Trump is against the political establishment (the media, the Republican Party, political grandees like the Bushes and the Clintons) and change (which encompasses everything you had but fear you are losing) and he’s against the world (which has taken jobs and sent immigrants to take over America).
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You can trace the roots of this culture war back to Ronald Reagan’s moral majority. Historians may even go back to the civic explosions of the 1960s.
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If you believe America is engaged in a life-or-death battle over its identity, in which the past looks golden and the future looks, well, brown-ish, then Mr Trump sounds like he’s on your side.
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If you believe the forces driving that unwelcome change are the media and immigration, then Mr Trump’s Arizona speech is music to your ears. It explains why every long minute spent trashing the press makes perfect political sense.
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Conservatives in the American heartland have long believed, with some justification, that they can’t get a fair hearing in America’s mainstream press, which they see as overwhelmingly coastal and liberal. They believe the press has made it impossible for them to win elections.
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In a poll out today by Quinnipiac University, 80% of Republicans say they trust Mr Trump more than the media.
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No wonder his favourite enemy is the fake news. What this also means is that if Mr Trump continues to fail to rack up any major legislative achievements that would actually help his supporters, he, and they, have a built-in excuse.
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In fact I’m hearing about three different scapegoats. Jerry, I’ll call him that, is a mild-mannered African American in his early 70s from West Virginia. He grew up under segregation and it was to his family’s deep dismay that he voted for Mr Trump last year.
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He believes Mr Trump understands that America needs more discipline: no more young men walking round with their jeans halfway down their butts showing off their boxers, was how he described it to me. Jerry hankers for a time when young men dressed well, behaved well and didn’t answer back to their elders.
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When I asked him if he’d be disappointed if Mr Trump failed to live up to his campaign promises of healthcare reform, tax reform and making American manufacturing great again, Jerry was clear. Mr Trump, he said, would probably never achieve any of those things for three reasons – the media, the Russia investigation and the Republican Party.
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But he didn’t even really care – those are details, he said. What matters is that the president understands what America should be like. Mr Trump himself has understood this, viscerally, all along. He realised the power of tapping into cultural anger. Remember back in January 2016 during the campaign when he said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
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He knew he had no limits.
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Today’s Quinnipiac poll isn’t good news for the president. By almost every metric, his overall support is ticking down. But on issues of trust, leadership, strength, values, he still has the support of a majority of Republicans. And his base is more solid still. I’m not saying Donald Trump will win again in 2020 but, given the complicated formula of American electoral maths, it’s certainly not impossible.
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He won by just tens of thousands of votes in three key states. If those votes are still there as he runs for a second term, what’s to say he can’t win again?

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The US – Much Maligned …

Posted on August 19, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers |

Robert Fredrikberg writes –

British policy in the 19th century was that its navy should be as large as the next two combined.

Air power is the most important thing these days. The US Air Force is vastly larger than anyone else’s.

So you might ask, who has the second largest air force? The second largest air force in the world is the air force of the US Navy! The Navy’s air force is larger than any other country’s whole air force.
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And the US Army has a third air force on top of that. So, totally dominant, basically. And it could stand a little cutting and still be totally dominant.

A number of commentators have brought up other powers. It seems to me that they are missing the point. What other country could wage a several year long war on the other side of the planet? None.

There are only a few countries that could even send in helicopters to rescue a hostage on the other side of the planet – without help.

Of course the US doesn’t always win. Of course it’s wrong most times. That’s not really the point. And I’m not even necessarily saying the situation is good.

It’s just a fact.

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Something for Mankind …

Posted on August 9, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Guide Posts, Quotes, Searching for Success |

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr was a jurist and Supreme Court Justice for 30 yrs. He is famous for his concise, pithy, prescient opinions and remains one of the most widely cited Supreme Court justices. He is the author of the phrase, “clear and present danger.” These extracts are from his thought

ATTITUDE is more important than heritage, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say; it is also more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.

Carve every word before you let it fall. A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used. Don’t be ‘consistent but be true.

Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped past him. Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience. A new and valid idea is stronger than an army. The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are tending. The rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one.

Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part of what we think. People talk fundamentals and superlatives and then make some changes of detail.

To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at the touch, nay, you may kick it about all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.

The only prize much cared for by the powerful is power. Yet nothing is so commonplace that it has not the wish to be remarkable.

Beware how you take away hope from any human being.

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Checks n Balances and a Great Soldier …

Posted on July 31, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, Personalities, Searching for Success |

Gen KM Bhimaya …

The founding fathers had carefully inserted this feature as a safeguard against the putative tyranny of one branch of the government over the other: the tyranny of the judicial branch over the legislative, for example.

This powerful feature has worked very effectively in the U.S. government for over 240 years. On some occasions, it has frustrated the President, and on others, it has infuriated the Congress. On reflection, however, it has helped moderate popular passion and judicial overreach.

The preceding paragraph is an over simplistic introduction of a basic feature that sometimes has had far reaching implications on the lives of the citizens and on the decision/law making processes of the government in power.

The “Checks and Balances” are exercised through the Presidential veto, the override of this veto, filibuster, amended bills to circumvent judicial interpretations, and so on.

The recent solitary negative vote by Senator John McCain (a former Presidential candidate) spelled the doom of the much-debated health care reform, that is, the plan that the Republicans crafted to repeal and replace the Obama care.

Three Republican senators crossed the aisle and voted against the bill that their party had curated diligently and assiduously. All of the dissenting senators proclaimed without hesitation that their loyalty was to their respective constituencies, not to the President.

Senator McCain’s vote was crucial in defeating the bill. Republicans had 52 senators and an additional casting vote of the Vice President in their favor. They could afford to lose two votes only. Eventually, they lost three, and with that, the bill.

Senator McCain is a war hero whose father and grand-father had been full Admirals in the U.S. Navy. He is the recipient of Distinguished Flying Cross, among others. He was a prisoner of war for over five years in Vietnam and had refused an offer of early repatriation with which his captors had tempted him for propaganda purposes.

Although diagnosed with brain cancer, he got a temporary discharge from the hospital to be able to participate in voting. He did not vote against this bill impulsively, but after consulting with the opposition, particularly with the Senate Minority leader.

In so doing, he saved medical coverage for millions of seniors with pre-existing conditions, and those who depended upon Medicaid for their survival.

PPS What about our Supreme Court”s Over Reach in the National Anthem Case as well as the Liquor Ban on Hotels near Highways?

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Insurgency and Counter Insurgency …

Posted on July 17, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, From a Services Career |

By Gen KM Bhimaya …

The politico-military dynamic is inherent in any policy decisions, governing counterinsurgency operations. And then, there is the need to cope with an unwelcome intruder: the changing, and often unanticipated alliance and alignments in international relations. Let me attempt to cut through the abstruseness of my argument by giving some examples.

The “exit” strategy in any conflict is fraught with serious risks. In global conflict, it used to fall into the realm of grand strategy as defined by Liddell Hart in his classic, “The Strategy of Indirect Approach.” And this is the province of diplomacy. Although, armed forces officers, such as General of the Army George Marshall, have distinguished themselves with the formulation and successful implementation of “grand strategy” they are an exception, not the rule.

It is unthinkable that the U.S. civilian and military leaders (Gens Mattis. David Petraeus, and the former commander Stanley McChrystal) who oversaw/ oversee operations in Afghanistan are naive enough not to perceive Pakistan’s ham-handed but effective complicity in nourishing and using the Haqani group. These commanders are well-read scholars, combining in them a rich repertoire of theoretical and practical insights, but they must defer to public opinion.

The Vietnam war was lost by the strong domestic anti-war backlash, not by the “Tet” offensive that was a stunning success. President Obama has often been unfairly accused of soft-pedaling the terrorist challenges in the Middle-East, but he was acutely aware of the dangers of getting involved deeply “with more of the same”, the blundering policy adopted by some of his predecessors during the Vietnam war.

Alas, either the Indian diplomatic initiatives are not aggressive enough to carry conviction, or the U.S. policy makers choose not to acknowledge Pakistan’s mischief, because they do not want to risk losing Pakistan’s logistic and military support for the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. The upshot: Pakistan has been very successful in running with the hare and hunting with the hounds in Afghanistan and the adjoining frontier regions. India has yet to come up with a viable strategy to neutralize Pakistan’s policy of diminishing Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Be that as it may, the central message of my opening comments pertained to the future of the terrorist movements in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. That is, I was attempting a wild prediction, based on the historical evidence relating to the past fortunes and misfortunes of the burgeoning, splinter terrorist groups (the almost defeated ISIS, for example). What should be India’s long- term terrorist target?

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