As Obama Heads to Vietnam, Current Events Overshadow History

New York Times, By Gardiner Harris & David E. Sanger, May 21

Hanoi — When Bill Clinton landed in this lake-studded capital 16 years ago, the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War, his mission was to put that conflict behind him, and the trip was among the most remarkable of his presidency.

When President Obama arrives here early Monday, his task may be a bit less dramatic, but is in many ways far more ambitious. These two countries, bedeviled by decades of misunderstandings, violence and wariness, now have the chance to create a partnership that seemed unlikely even three years ago.

No mention of TPP in this wonderful NYT coverage of the trip, though NPR has.
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Bernie’s Brand Is Crisis

Image via Salon

You may have heard that Bernie’s senior strategist Tad Devine filled the same role for failed candidates Gore and Kerry. But let’s talk about his successes.

You hear that right. Tad Devine‘s winning candidate caused literal riots in the streets in Bolivia and several incidents locally called “wars”. Devine’s employer in Ukraine wound up signing a highly unpopular deal with Russia instead of the EU, triggering the Orange Revolution, and fleeing to the Motherland with several billion dollars from the Ukraine treasury.

An award winning documentary was named for a phrase Devine coined in Bolivia, “Our Brand Is Crisis”. A decade later Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton brought the story to the masses:

So here we have an election whose message was driven by fear, distrust in the government, accusations of fraud, polarizing division, hyperbolic statistics and empty financial promises. The same methodologies used in Bolivia are in play in the Sanders campaign. Even Russian state media and right-winger sites like Brietbart are welcome sources if it makes “the establishment” look bad.

The far left needs to pause and examine the credibility of its sources.


Related: When did optimism become uncool?

More via Kos, “So You’re Deeply Concerned About Clinton’s Connections…”

Some words on the subject from Devine himself.

When Did Optimism Become Uncool?

A rare full article from the New York Times.

GIVEN Donald J. Trump’s virtual lock on the Republican presidential nomination, you’d think he’d be a bit more upbeat. Instead, his campaign began last summer with “our country is going to hell,” then declared, “we’re becoming a third world country,” and by this month had progressed to the United States “losing all the time.”

This election season, the impending apocalypse has been issue No. 1 for presidential aspirants on both sides. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he was running “because the world is falling apart.” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, declared the United States “near an abyss.” On the left, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says the economy has been “destroyed” for all but the wealthy few.

Presidential contenders are hardly alone in such bleak views. An April Gallup poll found that only 26 percent of Americans call themselves “satisfied” with “the way things are going” in the United States. It’s been this way for a while: January 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, was the last time a majority told Gallup they felt good about the nation’s course.

Yet a glance out the window shows blue sky. There are troubling issues, including the horror of mass shootings, but most American social indicators have been positive at least for years, in many cases for decades. The country is, on the whole, in the best shape it’s ever been in. So what explains all the bad vibes?

Social media and cable news, which highlight scare stories and overstate anger, bear part of the blame. So does the long-running decline in respect for the clergy, the news media, the courts and other institutions. The Republican Party’s strange insistence on disparaging the United States doesn’t help, either.

 But the core reason for the disconnect between the nation’s pretty-good condition and the gloomy conventional wisdom is that optimism itself has stopped being respectable. Pessimism is now the mainstream, with optimists viewed as Pollyannas. If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation!

Objectively, the glass looks significantly more than half full.

Job growth has been strong for five years, with unemployment now below where it was for most of the 1990s, a period some extol as the “good old days.” The American economy is No. 1 by a huge margin, larger than Nos. 2 and 3 (China and Japan) combined. Americans are seven times as productive, per capita, as Chinese citizens. The dollar is the currency the world craves — which means other countries perceive America’s long-term prospects as very good.

Pollution, discrimination, crime and most diseases are in an extended decline; living standards, longevity and education levels continue to rise. The American military is not only the world’s strongest, it is the strongest ever. The United States leads the world in science and engineering, in business innovation, in every aspect of creativity, including the arts. Terrorism is a serious concern, but in the last 15 years, even taking into account Sept. 11, an American is five times more likely to be hit by lightning than to be killed by a terrorist.

Is the middle class in dire straits, as Mr. Sanders contends? Yes, inflation-adjusted middle-class household income peaked in 1998 and has dropped slightly since. But during the same period, federal income taxes on the middle class went down, while benefits went up. Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution has shown that when lower taxes and higher benefits are factored in, middle-class buying power has risen 36 percent in the current generation.

Is American manufacturing in free fall, as Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump assert? Figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis show industrial output a tad below an all-time record level, while nearly double the output of the Reagan presidency, another supposed golden age. It’s just that advancing technology allows more manufacturing with fewer workers — a change unrelated to foreign competition.

Manufacturing jobs described by Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders as “lost” to China cannot be found there, or anywhere. As Charles Kenny of the nonpartisan Center for Global Development has shown, technology is causing factory-floor employment to diminish worldwide, even as loading docks hum with activity. This transition is jarring to say the least — but it was always inevitable. The evolution of the heavy-manufacturing sector away from workers and toward machines will not stop, even if international trade is cut off completely.

A century ago, most Americans worked in agriculture: Today hardly any do, and we’re all better off, including farmers. That manual labor, farm or factory, has given way to 60 percent of Americans employed in white-collar circumstances is the important story in the long term. But nothing is achieved by moaning about the past. The challenge is to create even more white-collar opportunities.

Though candidates on the right are full of fire and brimstone this year, the trend away from optimism is most pronounced among liberals. A century ago Progressives were the optimists, believing society could be improved, while conservatism saw the end-times approaching. Today progressive thought embraces Judgment Day, too. Climate change, inequality and racial tension are viewed not as the next round of problems to be solved, but as proof that the United States is horrible.

And yet developing the postindustrial economy — while addressing issues such as inequality, greenhouse emissions and the condition of public schools — will require optimism. Pessimists think in terms of rear-guard actions to turn back the clock. Optimists understand that where the nation has faults, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

That’s why the lack of progressive optimism is so keenly felt. In recent decades, progressives drank too deeply of instant-doomsday claims. If their predictions had come true, today petroleum would be exhausted, huge numbers of major animal species would be extinct, crop failures would be causing mass starvation, developing-world poverty would be getting worse instead of declining fast. (In 1990, 37 percent of humanity lived in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty; today it’s 10 percent.)

The lack of optimism in contemporary liberal and centrist thinking opens the door to Trump-style demagogy, since if the country really is going to hell, we do indeed need walls. And because optimism has lost its standing in American public opinion, past reforms — among them environmental protection, anti-discrimination initiatives, income security for seniors, auto and aviation safety, interconnected global economics, improved policing and yes, Obamacare — don’t get credit for the good they have accomplished.

In almost every case, reform has made America a better place, with fewer unintended consequences and lower transaction costs than expected. This is the strongest argument for the next round of reforms. The argument is better made in positive terms — which is why we need a revival of optimism.

Recently Warren Buffett said that because of the “negative drumbeat” of politics, “many Americans now believe their children will not live as well as they themselves do. That view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.” This was not Nebraska folk wisdom; rather, it’s sophisticated analysis. The optimistic view is that it’s still morning in America, and if we fix what’s wrong, the best is yet to come. Such can-do, better-future thinking needs to make an appearance in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Report: ICE planning more immigration raids

The Arizona Republic, By Daniel González, May 12

Phoenix, AZ — The Obama administration is planning a large-scale operation in May and June to round up and deport hundreds of Central American families and children found to have entered the country illegally, according to Reuters.

The raids will be considerably larger than the two-day operation that Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted in January. Those raids focused on undocumented families living in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, Reuters reported, citing a document the news outlet had seen confirmed by two sources.

ICE officials would not confirm that the agency is planning a month long raid targeting Central Americans.

The agency continues to conduct deportation operations, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced in November 2014, that place the highest priority on removing convicted criminals, immigrants deemed national-security and public-safety threats, as well as recent border crossers, apprehended after Jan. 1, 2014.

Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. plans new wave of immigrant deportation raids

Saudi officials were ‘supporting’ 9/11 hijackers, commission member says

The Guardian, By Philip Shenon, May 12

A former Republican member of the 9/11 commission, breaking dramatically with the commission’s leaders, said Wednesday he believes there was clear evidence that Saudi government employees were part of a support network for the 9/11 hijackers and that the Obama administration should move quickly to declassify a long-secret congressional report on Saudi ties to the 2001 terrorist attack.

The comments by John F Lehman, an investment banker in New York who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, signal the first serious public split among the 10 commissioners since they issued a 2004 final report that was largely read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia, which was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11.

“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” Lehman said in an interview, suggesting that the commission may have made a mistake by not stating that explicitly in its final report. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”

Supreme Court Gives FBI More Hacking Power

The Intercept, By Jenna McLaughlin, April 28

The Supreme Court on Thursday approved changes that would make it easier for the FBI to hack into computers, including those belonging to victims of cybercrime. The changes will take effect in December, unless Congress adopts competing legislation.

Previously, under the federal rules on criminal procedures, a magistrate judge couldn’t approve a warrant request to search a computer remotely if the investigator didn’t know where the computer was—because it might be outside his or her jurisdiction.

The rule change, sent in a letter to Congress on Thursday, would allow a magistrate judge to issue a warrant to search or seize an electronic device regardless of where it is, if the target of the investigation is using anonymity software like Tor to cloak their location. Over a million people use Tor to browse popular websites like Facebook every month for perfectly legitimate reasons, in addition to criminals who use it to hide their locations.

The Quiet American

Paul Manafort made a career out of stealthily reinventing the world’s nastiest tyrants as noble defenders of freedom. Getting Donald Trump elected will be a cinch.

Slate, By Franklin Foer, April 28

Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s palace, is impressive by the standards of Palm Beach—less so when judged against the abodes of the world’s autocrats. It doesn’t, for instance, quite compare with Mezhyhirya, the gilded estate of deposed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Trump may have 33 bathrooms and three bomb shelters, but his mansion lacks a herd of ostrich, a galleon parked in a pond, and a set of golden golf clubs. Yet the two properties are linked, not just in ostentatious spirit, but by the presence of one man. Trump and Yanukovych have shared the same political brain, an operative named Paul Manafort.

Ukrainians use the term “political technologist” as a favored synonym for electoral consultant. Trump turned to Manafort for what seemed at first a technical task: Manafort knows how to bullwhip and wheedle delegates at a contested convention. He’s done it before, assisting Gerald Ford in stifling Ronald Reagan’s insurgency at the GOP’s summer classic of 1976. In the conventions that followed, the Republican Party often handed Manafort control of the program and instructed him to stage-manage the show. He produced the morning-in-America convention of 1984 and the Bob Dole nostalgia-thon of 1996.

Given Manafort’s experience and skill set, it never made sense that he would be limited to such a narrow albeit crucial task as delegate accumulation. Indeed, it didn’t take long before he attempted to seize control of the Trump operation—managing the budget, buying advertising, steering Trump toward a teleprompter and away from flaming his opponents, appearing on air as a primary surrogate.

Some saw the hiring of Manafort as desperate, as Trump reaching for a relic from the distant past in the belated hope of compensating for a haphazard campaign infrastructure. In fact, securing Manafort was a coup. He is among the most significant political operatives of the past 40 years, and one of the most effective. He has revolutionized lobbying several times over, though he self-consciously refrains from broadcasting his influence. Unlike his old business partners, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, you would never describe Manafort as flamboyant. He stays in luxury hotels, but orders room service and churns out memos. When he does venture from his suite for dinner with a group, he’ll sit at the end of the table and say next to nothing, giving the impression that he reserves his expensive opinions for private conversations with his clients. “Manafort is a person who doesn’t necessarily show himself. There’s nothing egotistical about him,” says the economist Anders Aslund, who advised the Ukrainian government. The late Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory described him as having a “smooth, noncommittal manner, ” though she also noted his “aggrieved brown eyes.” Despite his decades of amassing influence in Washington and other global capitals, he’s never been the subject of a full magazine profile. He distributes quotes to the press at the time and place of his choosing, which prior to his arrival on the Trump campaign, was almost never. (Indeed, he did not respond to requests to comment for this story.)

Why Hillary Fans Get Angry

If you’re not a fan of Hillary yourself, this piece will take some suspension of disbelief. It’s an attempt to explain why her “love and kindness” supporters eventually reach the end of their ropes and post mean replies to Sanders fans.

We don’t feel like we started this fight. Many of us liked Sanders early on, for all the reasons his diehard fans still do. Equality and democracy are important Democratic principles and he said some great stuff.

But then he kept saying exactly the same stuff. If you’ve seen one speech you’ve seen them all. His published proposals failed to add up. He started attacking institutions and people dear to the DNC. So many of us stepped back and said, “not only can he not accomplish what he’s promising, he’s actually working against us on several fronts.”

We became the subject of attack. Somehow Hillary was worse than Trump or Cruz or Kasich or Bush. Somehow she was the great evil power to be defeated, and anyone who sympathized with her was a sell-out, a shill, blind, ignorant, heartless, undemocratic, “establishment.” Read More

The CIA Illegally Let the Wrong People Do Intelligence Work, Declassified Report Finds

VICE News, By Jason Leopold, April 27

The CIA violated federal laws and its own internal regulations by hiring independent contractors for a wide variety of intelligence and national security-related work that was supposed to be performed by government employees, according to a CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The report said the CIA “relies heavily on independent contractors to accomplish important facets of its mission,” particularly at the National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the agency responsible for clandestine operations around the world. The report, dated June 22, 2012 but only declassified last month, raised numerous red flags about the CIA’s use of independent contractors throughout all divisions within the agency, and for work performed work in areas that included covert operations and protective security services overseas.

By law, that work must be done by CIA employees.

Turkey’s parliament speaker seeks religious constitution

AFP, April 25

Istanbul – Turkey should have a religious constitution, parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman said Monday, in comments that will likely add to concerns of creeping Islamisation under the ruling AKP party.

“As a Muslim country, why should we be in a situation where we are in retreat from religion?” state-run news agency Anatolia quoted him as saying.

“We are a Muslim country. As a consequence, we must have a religious constitution,” the AKP lawmaker told a conference in Istanbul.