India in America’s Coils?

The Citizen, By Bharat Karnad, March 11

New Delhi – It is a devastating turn of events – the indication that the Bharatiya Janata Party government will soon sign the three so-called “foundational” accords with the United States that Washington has been fiercely pushing in the past decade.

The Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) is first in line. The other two agreements are the CISMOA (Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geospatial information and data).
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Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016

magnify-dollarH.R.1831 has passed Congress. The bill, expected to be signed by President Obama, is an attempt to bring a more scientific process to the evaluation of future programs.

“Directs the Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the data inventory, data infrastructure, and statistical protocols related to federal policymaking and the agencies responsible for maintaining that data to:

  • determine the optimal arrangement for which administrative data on federal programs and tax expenditures, , survey data, and related statistical data series may be integrated and made available to facilitate program evaluation, continuous improvement, policy-relevant research, and cost-benefit analyses;
  • make recommendations on how data infrastructure and statistical protocols should be modified to best fulfill those objectives; and
  • make recommendations on how best to incorporate outcomes measurement, institutionalize randomized controlled trials, and rigorous impact analysis into program design.”

The bill also “requires the Commission to consider whether a clearinghouse for program and survey data should be established and how to create such clearinghouse.”

Several agencies would be initially directed to include these processes and resultant knowledge into their decision making:

  • the Bureau of the Census;
  • the Internal Revenue Service;
  • the Social Security Administration;
  • the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Justice;
  • the Office of Management and Budget;
  • the Bureau of Economic Analysis; and
  • the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although the processes themselves are open to political shenanigans, this seems like a step in the right direction toward more reality-based and secular governance.

Sanders “Middle East Policy” Short on Actionable Items

Image via WaPo

In lieu of attending the AIPAC conference yesterday, Sanders issued an essay on Middle East policy. He opens by establishing his international credentials.

“Let me begin by saying that I think I am probably the only candidate for president who has personal ties with Israel. I spent a number of months there when I was a young man on a kibbutz, so I know a little bit about Israel.”

He pens a litany of actions that must happen, but offers little insight into what specific actions a president might take.

  • “Peace will require that organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah renounce their efforts to undermine the security of Israel. It will require the entire world to recognize Israel.”
  • “But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
  • “More inclusive, stable governance in Iraq will be vital to inflict a lasting defeat on ISIS. Otherwise, ISIS could regain its influence or another, similar organization may spring up in its place.”
  • “While the U.S. has an important role to play in defeating ISIS, that struggle must be led by the Muslim countries themselves on the ground.”
  • “Qatar – which intends to spend up to $200 billion to host the 2022 World Cup – Qatar which per capita is the wealthiest nation in the world – Qatar can do more to contribute to the fight Against ISIS. If they are prepared to spend $200 billion for a soccer tournament, then they have got to spend a lot spend a lot more against a barbaric organization.”
  • “What I am also saying is that other countries in the region – like Saudi Arabia, which has the 4th largest defense budget in the world – has to dedicate itself more fully to the destruction of ISIS, instead of other military adventures like the one it is pursuing right now in Yemen.”
  • “ISIS has only 30,000 fighters on the ground. So when we ask the nations in the region to stand up to do more against ISIS – nations in the region which have millions of men and women under arms – we know it is surely within their capability to destroy ISIS.”
  • “We must counter the destabilizing behavior of Iran’s leaders.”

“Now I realize that given the geopolitics of the region this is not going to be easy,” he writes. “I realize different countries have different priorities. But we can help set the agenda and mobilize stronger collective action to defeat ISIS in a lasting way.”

Nowhere does he offer insight into what new leverage America can bring to the table to convince countries in the Middle East to shed thousands of years of tension, arrive at a collaborative military plan, and send its citizens to war.

Nor does he acknowledge the rest of the 16 countries in the Middle East, like Turkey, a geographically critical US strategic partner grappling with ISIS, authoritarian crackdowns and other turmoil.

Given the Senator’s dead last ranking in bipartisanship, it is difficult to see Sanders as an effective coalition builder internationally.


Trumping Union Vote?

OWS BustingKaren Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, which has high membership in the Rust Belt.

We hear the same refrains all the time, That people are fed up and they’re hurting. That their families have not recovered from the recession. That every family is harboring someone still not back at work. That someone is paying rent for their brother-in-law.

And then a guy comes on the stage and says, “I’m your guy who will blow the whole thing up.”

Josh Goldstein, deputy national media director for the AFL-CIO:

In terms of his message, it is really resonating. Particularly if you are talking [about] union people, he is speaking our language. We can’t let that go unattended, because people have been doing that with Trump for a long time, and his numbers have only gone up. … It is our job to go out and educate people now, so it doesn’t cross that threshold and become a threat.

Where was the Union support for Occupy? On the streets in solidarity?

The Unions appear to support the Democratic Party more than they support Trump’s message.

And the Unions are loosing membership? I cannot imagine why.

The growing myth of the ‘independent’ voter

Voters are more partisan at the poll station than on the phone.

WaPo – Since 2004, the number of what we’ll call “pure” independents — which is to say, those who aren’t leaning in one direction or the other — has increased slightly.

This is a long-term trend, but it clearly overlaps with what we’re seeing in the presidential race. People may consistently vote for Republicans, but they would rather call themselves “independents.” There’s an appeal to being an outsider and to outsider politics that’s reflected in how people see themselves.

But when the general election rolls around, those Republican-leaning independents will very likely vote for the Republican.

Same goes for the Dems. Despite talk of “33% of Sanders supporters won’t…” the actual party loss is single digit.

Trump considered a “Global Risk”, ranked higher than oil shock or war with China in the South Sea

“”I will gladly accept the mantle of anger” via Vox

The Economist’s Global Risk Index now includes Donald Trump’s presidency.

The full list:


Their analysis:

Thus far Mr Trump has given very few details of his policies – and these tend to be prone to constant revision – but a few themes have become apparent. First, he has been exceptionally hostile towards free trade, including notably NAFTA, and has repeatedly labelled China as a “currency manipulator”. He has also taken an exceptionally right-wing stance on the Middle East and jihadi terrorism, including, among other things, advocating the killing of families of terrorists and launching a land incursion into Syria to wipe out IS (and acquire its oil). In the event of a Trump victory, his hostile attitude to free trade, and alienation of Mexico and China in particular, could escalate rapidly into a trade war – and at the least scupper the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and 11 other American and Asian states signed in February 2016. His militaristic tendencies towards the Middle East (and ban on all Muslim travel to the US) would be a potent recruitment tool for jihadi groups, increasing their threat both within the region and beyond.

Their conclusion:

Although we do not expect Mr Trump to defeat his most likely Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, there are risks to this forecast, especially in the event of a terrorist attack on US soil or a sudden economic downturn. It is worth noting that the innate hostility within the Republican hierarchy towards Mr Trump, combined with the inevitable virulent Democratic opposition, will see many of his more radical policies blocked in Congress – albeit such internal bickering will also undermine the coherence of domestic and foreign policymaking.


Burma, after 50 years of military rule, gets an unassuming democrat as president

Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi

WaPo –  — For years, Htin Kyaw was content to stay a few steps outside of the spotlight on his close friend Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s charismatic pro-democracy leader. He’s been with her from the early days of the movement, through her long periods of house arrest to their party’s jubilant general-election victory in November.

Even as Burma’s parliament on Tuesday elected him head of the first civilian government in the Southeast Asian nation in decades, Htin Kyaw deflected attention back to the woman who has spent a lifetime fighting for democracy.

“This is a victory of the people. This is sister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory,” Burma’s new president told reporters as he left the assembly hall after the vote.

Since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party scored a landslide victory last year, she has made it clear that she will manage Burma’s new government from a perch she calls “above the president.” Nonetheless, colleagues said that the even-keeled Htin Kyaw is a strong choice to manage the perilous transition as the party takes over from the military-backed government next month, even though he has never held elected office.

Putin orders start of Russian forces’ withdrawal from Syria

Reuters – Putin, at a meeting in the Kremlin with his defense and foreign ministers, said Russian military forces in Syria had largely fulfilled their objectives and ordered an intensification of Russia’s diplomatic efforts to broker a peace deal in the country.

“I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled. With the participation of the Russian military… the Syrian armed forces and patriotic Syrian forces have been able to achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism and have taken the initiative in almost all respects,” Putin said.

But the Russian leader signaled Moscow would keep a military presence: he did not give a deadline for the completion of the withdrawal and said Russian forces would stay on at the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymim airbase in Syria’s Latakia province.


It Took a FOIA Lawsuit to Uncover How the Obama Administration Killed FOIA Reform

Vice News, By Jason Leopold, March 9

The Obama administration has long called itself the most transparent administration in history. But newly released Department of Justice (DOJ) documents show that the White House has actually worked aggressively behind the scenes to scuttle congressional reforms designed to give the public better access to information possessed by the federal government.
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Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

Washington Post, By Radley Balko, March 10

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. Read More