Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wisconsin Five Months Out from November

Josh Pade, Kelda Roys, Paul Soglin, and Kathleen Vinehout at a debate.
Last I posted about what's going on in Wisconsin politics, almost twenty Democrats were rushing into the gubernatorial race. Scott Walker was just getting his campaign for a third term started. On the Senate side, the Republican primary had two Senate candidates with another considering entering the race. The winner will take on Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin. Here's my analysis of what's been going on lately.

The Democratic field has been heavily slashed. Several minor candidates failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot before the deadline expired. Two others, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and State Representative Dana Wachs, dropped out due to lack of support. Both had plenty of money, but they also spent a lot and got nowhere. When the June Marquette Law School poll came out, it showed Gronik at only 4 percent and Wachs at 2 percent. Both men were largely unknown and probably would've done better had the field not been so crowded.

This leaves Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Kelda Roys, Mike McCabe, Mahlon Mitchell, Josh Pade, Paul Soglin, and Kathleen Vinehout in the race. I imagine the new poll for July will lead to more candidates dropping out of the race. The Marquette poll was good for Evers, who still has a commanding lead over all his opponents. He has 31 percent and I think this is because he is the only Democrat who's won a statewide election. It also appears that Wisconsin's Democratic establishment is rallying behind Department of Public Instruction superintendent. Evers has received endorsements from former Senator Herb Kohl and several current and former state legislators and municipal officials. The Evers campaign was obviously disappointed in their third place showing at a straw poll during annual Democratic Party of Wisconsin's convention in Oshkosh, but it has not seemed to significantly damage their support.

None of the other Democrats gained any traction. In fact, several have lost support since the March Marquette poll. Soglin has been running a very lazy campaign and has suffered by seeing a decrease in support from 9 percent to 4 percent. McCabe, the former executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, has gone from 6 percent to 3 percent. Pade, a corporate attorney from Kenosha, has the most irrelevant candidacy since Bob Harlow dropped out. He went from no support in March to 1 percent in June and is now back to about 0 percent in July.

Others are just hovering around where they started. State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, who is also running as highly progressive candidate, rose from 5 percent to 6 percent over those three months. The same goes for Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, who had 4 percent in March and now has 6 percent in July. The winner of the convention's straw poll, former State Representative Kelda Roys, has barely budged from about 0 percent in May to 3 percent in July. Roys is still getting some good press. She has received endorsements from groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY's List, so she will gain momentum from them. However, she is very far from Evers and it might be too late to catch up.

Meanwhile, Walker has a lot going for him. The June Marquette poll shows him leading every Democrat. Roys might be the darling of the liberal grassroots, but she gets trounced in a general election. Walker defeats her, 48 percent to 40 percent. McCabe performs the best. Walker is ahead of him in a close race, 44 percent to 42 percent. Walker beats Evers 48 percent to 44 percent and Soglin 48 percent to 39 percent. On one hand, the Wisconsin economy is strong. On the other, the Democrats are suppose to have an advantage with a Republican in the White House.

Right now, they should be concerned that Walker has an edge. He has a net positive in the approval rating and the July poll showed that 52 percent of Wisconsin voters think the state is heading in the right direction while 42 percent think it is not. Winning back the Governor's Mansion and the Wisconsin State Capitol won't be as easy as it seems.

Leah Vukmir speaks at a rally in Waukesha - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
As for the Republican U.S. Senate primary, the race between Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson is tightening. This can be attributed to Vukmir's strength among the conservative grassroots and elected officials. In the March Marquette poll, Nicholson led by 9 percentage points, 28 percent to 19 percent. The June poll reduced his lead to 5 percentage points, 37 percent to 32 percent. The July poll give Vukmir a narrow lead. She has 34 percent to Nicholson's 32 percent.

Between the March and June polls, Vukmir won the official endorsement of the Republican Party of Wisconsin at their state convention in Milwaukee. Eric Hovde, potential candidate who received 30.8 percent in the 2012 Republican Senate primary, decided to not run this time around. Some of his supporters from the last time he was a candidate must have transferred to Vukmir.

Since the June poll, the news has only gotten better for Vukmir. She received the endorsement of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. She also has the support of Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Representative Glenn Grothman, and Representative Sean Duffy. Four of the five Republicans in the House of Representatives are supporting her. The only exception is Mike Gallagher. Additionally, the National Rifle Association have endorsed her, but this was announced after the poll was conducted.

So far, this primary has not been nearly as negative as the one in 2012. There have been attack ads from super PACs, but nothing too severe. It has been a very low-key primary, but that could change as August 14 approaches. The race is sure to tighten further with all the momentum that Vukmir has received. This primary in Wisconsin will probably be divided along familiar lines. Craig Gilbert, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Washington bureau chief, posted a very informative article on how Republican primaries usually conclude. Generally, Wisconsin Republicans are often always divided between the southeast and the rest. Southeastern Wisconsin, where most of the population is located, usually votes for one of their own who has a track record in politics. Upstate and western Republicans tend to prefer more of a populist.

Scott Walker vs. Mark Neumann 
This happened in the Republican primary for governor in 2010. Walker, who was then the Milwaukee county executive, battled former U.S. Representative Mark Neumann for the nomination. Walker was beloved among suburbanite Republicans in the greater Milwaukee area while Neumann had the support of rural Republicans in the rest of the state. If it had been a geography contest, then Neumann would have won easily. Walker won the primary because he led in decisively in the suburbs both inside and outside of Milwaukee county. He won more than 70 percent of Republican primary voters in Milwaukee county and the WOW counties. The map above shows which counties Walker and Neumann won.

Vukmir took over Walker's Assembly seat in Wauwatosa when he became the Milwaukee county executive. She has since become a state senator, covering territory in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. She has the backing of the very conservative suburbs. Her challenge is to win there by wide margins like Walker did to offset Neumann's support in the rest of the state.

Whoever wins will have to be ready to take on Baldwin. The incumbent has the advantage in polling and fundraising, but that can change quickly. In 2016, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson never led in the Marquette poll against Russ Feingold. What he managed to do was close the gap and ultimately win in November. Vukmir and Nicholson might be behind, but victory isn't impossible.

Evers and Vukmir are the favorites in the primary races, but that doesn't mean other candidates shouldn't lose hope. Both primaries still have a lot of undecided voters despite voting being only weeks always. That leaves some unpredictability in both primaries. The question is whether it will be enough to help other candidates as Vukmir and Evers begin to consolidate support.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What Motivated Trudeau's G7 Press Conference?

Trudeau at a press conference during the G7 - Canadian Press/Justin Tang
I'm not a big fan of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He cares more about combating diversity than proficiency when it comes to selecting people in the Cabinet of his government. He's more of a moderate on economics. I agree with Trudeau's views on the importance of the energy sector. I disagree with his decision to raise the minimum wage in his country. However, I do stand with Trudeau when it comes to free trade.

Last month, the G7 summit was held in La Malbaie, Quebec with Canada as the host country. At the summit, the main topic of discussion was free trade. President Donald Trump is determined to implement new tariffs in the foolish belief that he will be able to protect American industry. Trudeau was one of many world leaders who was furious with Trump's views on trade policy, so he held a press conference where he articulated his view with a defiant tone. "Canadians, we're polite, we're reasonable, but we will also not be pushed around," the prime minister declared.

Not exactly Winston Churchill's "never surrender" speech, but Trudeau is making it clear that Canada will not be bullied by Trump. There's no doubt in my mind that Trudeau understands how important trade is. Trade has led to global prosperity. Canadians have benefitted immensely from trade, so he won't support protectionism. 

Aside from the tariffs, however, I think there's another reason Trudeau held a press conference with such strong rhetoric. If you've been keeping track of Canadian polling, you'll notice that his Liberal Party is now behind in the polls. The Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, are now ahead:

Nanos Research (2/16): Liberals 37%, Conservatives 31%, NDP 20%, Green 8% - Lib +6
Nanos Research (3/9): Liberals 36%, Conservatives 33%, NDP 19%, Green 7% - Lib +3
Ipsos (4/30): Liberals 36%, Conservatives 35%, NDP 20%, Green 6% - Lib +1
Nanos Research (5/25): Conservatives 36%, Liberals 33%, NDP 20%, Green 6% - Con +3
Ipsos (6/29): Conservatives 37%, Liberals 33%, NDP 21%, Green 5% - Con +4

The Liberals returned to power in 2015. I was supportive of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. Despite a balanced budget and economic growth, the Conservatives lost the election. Fortunately, I might just be a minor hiccup in a long-term trend towards the right in Canada. Canadian voters don't believe Trudeau has been doing enough to deliver on his promises.

With the next general election scheduled in 2019, Trudeau may want to have the campaign focus on Trump, whom many Canadians despise. Lawrence Martin, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, wrote that Trump has "given the Prime Minister a ton of Teflon in the fight ahead." Perhaps Trudeau will be encouraged to hold an early election. With many problems ahead, a campaign now where Trudeau paints himself as leading a unified front against Trump could prove successful.

Naturally, Trudeau doesn't want to go down the route of Theresa May, but there are some big differences between a Canadian election in 2018 and the early British called last year.  If Trudeau wraps himself in the Canadian flag and runs a patriotic campaign that is primarily about challenging Trump, then he there's a realistic chance that he could win.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Detroit: Become Human Review

Quantic Dream is one of the game developers that is in the business of making choice-based "movie games." They take their time to carefully create a game with excellent graphics, difficult choices, and a phenomenal plot. Previously, they created Heavy Rain (which I really liked) and Beyond: Two Souls (which was okay). Detroit: Become Human is about as great as Heavy Rain with a unique plot that looks to the future of the United States.

Over the last several decades, there has been a massive tech boom in the United States led by colossal corporations like Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet. In the near future, we can expect more extensive innovations with AI. This includes androids, which is what Detroit focuses on. Players are taken to the not-so-distant future to see that a world where androids are widespread is like.

Detroit, Michigan has largely rebounded from its slump in the 2010s. A company called CyberLife is at the forefront of the android industry. Their androids have largely improved basic human life. Humans can have androids serve them food, take care of their children when they are gone, and are now in the military so real lives are not at risk. Simultaneously, androids have caused rising unemployment, are taking over sports, and are placing private life at risk. Androids are also simply property. If owners don't want their androids anymore, then they can simple throw them away and buy a newer model. This brings us to the moral dilemma of Detroit: what happens when androids develop consciousness?

Players take control of three androids in the game. Connor is my favorite of three. He is a highly advanced android sent by CyberLife to assist the Detroit Police Department with cases of deviancy (when androids become conscious act erratically). Connor is involved in many investigations and players are allowed to choose how to proceed. At the heart of Connor's plot is the issue of loyalty. He is an android who cares deeply about completing his mission, but that means taking on his own kind.

My next favorite character is Kara, a servant who works for an abusive father who has a drug addiction. Kara is quickly aware the way the father treats his daughter is wrong, so she becomes a deviant. She flees with the daughter in hope of finding her a better home. The police are hot on their tracks, but Kara is determined to flee. Players have to ensure they succeed.

The character I liked the least is Markus. He is shot by police following an incident at his owner's house. His body is dumped at an android landfill, but his programming wasn't destroyed and he wakes up to find thousands of androids destroyed and in pieces. This traumatizing experience puts Markus on the path of revolution. Players can choose whether Markus' movement will be one of peace or one of war. His plot isn't bad. There's a lot to like from it, but it isn't as interesting as Connor's or Kara's because the course feels more limited.

There's many little things that add to the atmosphere of this game. Players will walk down the city streets and find homeless people who may have lost their jobs to androids. They will find androids playing with children and assisting the elderly. There's magazines in almost every mission, revealing how androids are changing everyday life. Quantic Dream continues to provide amazing graphics.

The most crucial part of the game is the choices made by the players. Quantic Dream hits the ball out of the park when it comes to this gameplay. The story is not linear. There are multiple endings for many different characters. It does not feel linear in any way. The choices made will also affect the relationships the players have with other characters in the gamer, like Connor's partner, the girl Kara is protecting, and Markus' followers. Many decisions have real consequences.

Detroit addresses several problems in our future. Is there a real risk that androids could develop consciousness on their own (like in the HBO show Westworld)? How should androids be treated? Are they just property? What will the long-term damages be in this brave new world? Detroit may offer a realistic look to the future, but only time will tell.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Far Cry 5 Review

I know this is very late, but I wanted to get around to reviewing Far Cry 5. This game in the series takes players to a very unique location: the United States. Specifically, the plot occurs in fictional Hope county in Montana. The game does what Far Cry has always been best at. It is an open world shooter with a vast map, an interesting villain, and entertaining gameplay.

Players take the role of an unnamed deputy, who is sent with a team from the county sheriff's department and the United States Marshals to arrest a man named Joseph Seed. Seed has built a powerful cult called the Project at Eden's Gate and it has taken control of Hope county. Everyone in the county must conform to the beliefs of Eden's Gate or die. Seed has three lieutenants under him. They handle the militia forces, the propaganda, and production of a drug called Bliss to keep the masses subverted.

It is the job of the deputy to destroy the cult and bring Seed into custody. This is done by linking up with the Resistance, a group battling Eden's Gate to save the people who are oppressed. There are several missions that need to be achieved throughout the map in order to eliminate the lieutenants and eventually Seed himself.

The plot of Far Cry 5 continues the tradition in the series of strong villains who are all distinctively threatening in their own way. Far Cry 3 had ruthless pirate lord Vaas Montenegro and Far Cry 4 had wannabe king Pagan Min. Jacob Seed is certainly someone to be feared. When I hear the name Eden's Gate, I immediately think of cults from history, like Peoples Temple.

Ubisoft's fictional cult in Far Cry 5 is significant in that it dominates a county within the United States. Its power in the game is far more expansive than that of Peoples Temple. I think Far Cry 5 warns gamers of theological regimes and cults in particular. It would be frightening to live in a country were religious laws are enforced and those who disagree are punished.

Hope county itself has beautiful scenery. It is a rural part of Montana (no shortage of those) surrounded by mountains. Players fight in small towns, forested areas, and farmland. The county includes numerous animals that can be hunted and some of the views are just breathtaking. The map is sprinkled with cult outposts and eerie monuments that need to be removed.

As for the gameplay, Far Cry 5 continues with a successful recipe that has worked with previous games in the series. It is a first-person shooter that gives players plenty of weapons to choose from. Players can travel by land, air and sea to their destinations. Some of the missions can be get repetitive at times, but not the point of being seriously annoying. The primary missions in the game are still very engaging.

The side missions are enjoyable as well, but not to the same extent as primary missions. Fishing, hunting, and racing will allow a player to have fun for many more hours. Far Cry 5 has co-op like previous entries, allowing friends to play with each other on missions or doing miscellaneous tasks. There's also the arcade mode, which I believe the creators of Far Cry should expand on for later games. Levels created by users is a new window of opportunity. As for the DLC, I did enjoy the first one to come out which follows the background of one character in the main campaign during his Vietnam War days.

There is a minor problem with the game. It has microtransactions and it is worth asking Ubisoft whether or not they plan to pursue this in the next Far Cry installment. Microtransactions remain very unpopular among many gamers (check out the backlash with Star Wars: Battlefront II), but fortunately they are not too integrated within the gameplay. They didn't serve that big purpose unless players wanted to buy cosmetic items.

Overall, Far Cry 5 is yet another major success for Ubisoft. I recommend it for any gamer who loves the open world first-person shooter style. It has a great story, a lot of action, and a wonderful setting. The abundance of content makes the game very enjoyable.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Merkel is Running out of Time

Merkel gives her New Year's address - Michael Tantussi
When I last covered Angela Merkel, the German chancellor's Christian Democratic Union had won its fourth term with a reduced share of the votes. This meant Merkel had to form another coalition, but her difficulties with finding a partner and the challenges Germany faces ahead leads me to believe that she won't be in power by the time of the next election scheduled in 2021.

Before I get into the details of the coalition talks, I think it is important to bring back the election results to understand Merkel's problem. The CDU won 246 seats in 2017, down from 311 in 2013. The Social Democratic Party declined from 193 to 153. This didn't bode well for Germany's political establishment. The big winners were the more ideological political parties, particularly on the right. The nationalist Alternative for Germany took third place, with 94 seats. The pro-business Free Democrats, after missing the threshold to enter the Bundestag last time, got 80 seats. The two major political parties on the left made gains as well. The Left won 69 seats (up from 64) and the Greens won 67 (up from 63).

In my post on results of the German election, I brought up what was being called the "Jamaica Coalition" by political commentators. The plan was for Merkel to unite her CDU (their color is black), the FDP (yellow), and the Greens (self-explanatory) together. The coalition had the same colors of the Jamaican flag. Merkel's dilemma was that she had to unite left-wing environmentalists with right-wing free marketeers. The migration debate was heated during the talks, with the FDP  demanding a limit of 200,000 on the number of refugees who could enter the country and the Greens desiring something more flexible. Sure enough, the coalition talks fell apart when FDP leader Christian Lindner walked out. Getting to a majority of seats was not possible with the Green Party alone.

That left the Social Democrats, led by Martin Schulz. Following his disappointing loss, Schulz announced there would be no coalition with the CDU. Then the coalition talks came and he soon softened his tone. The SPD was full of infighting over whether to make a deal with the CDU or not. Several party members urged him to accept a grand coalition. At last, a deal was made on February 8. Merkel's strongest concession was giving the SPD the finance ministry. Merkel remained chancellor, but what of Schulz?

On February 13, the man who many thought could turn the Social Democrats around resigned from his position as party leader. He was leader for less than a year. In many ways, he had dug his own grave. After he became leader, the Social Democrats enjoyed a bump in the polls, running neck-and-neck with the CDU. As time went on, flaws in Schulz started to reveal. A member of the European Parliament, he was not used to domestic politics and tried the same old electoral strategy used by previous SPD leaders. It didn't work, which was one nail in his coffin. The sheer loss of his party was another. The final nail was the coalition reversal. Schulz had too many flaws and he paid the ultimate price.

The Social Democratic Party is now led by Olaf Scholz, who is the finance minister and was previously the mayor of Hamburg. He is an interim and will only serve as leader until April 22.

As for Merkel, it is probably for the best if she resigns in a few years. The decline in support for the CDU should be a wake up call for her. The migration issue is eating away at her popularity. What's most interesting about this issue is how many times Merkel changed her position on it. Back in 2015, the chancellor told a young Palestinian refugee that her parents could not enter the country because Germany did not have the ability to take care of everyone. The girl was brought to tears, but this was a logical approach to a difficult issue.

As the Syrian Civil War intensified, Merkel suddenly had a change of heart. She opened the doors to over 1 million refugees, who fled from the Middle East to Europe. Germany wasn't footing the bill either. The refugees spread out across Europe, angering the British and many eastern Europeans. The refugee crisis directly contributed to Brexit. Populist movements on the left and right became stronger. Merkel had to agree to a refugee cap in order to avoid a mass exodus of conservative voters from her party to the FDP and the AfD.

The consequences have been great. A study out of Zurich University found that police in the state of Lower Saxony dealt with a 10.4 percent increase in reported crimes in 2015 and 2016. More than 90 percent of the increase was from migrants. The age of the migrants was a contributing factor. Men between the ages of 14 and 30 were more likely to commit crimes and Lower Saxony's largest age bracket came from this group.

Four years ago, Merkel seemed to be indestructible, but the migration crisis and the formation of a lackluster government has put her in a difficult position. Now she has been embracing migration caps and has realized that many Germans were opposed to the decision of opening borders to everyone. Under Merkel, Germany has enjoyed a strong economic boom, but it is now suffering from a major demographic crisis. For the good of her country and her party, it is best for Merkel step aside in the coming years.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Look at the Upcoming Midterms

Scott Walker announced his campaign for a third term in November
It's a midterm year and you all know what that means. Every district in the House of Representatives will have an election, as will thirty-two states for Senate (including both seats of Minnesota's), and thirty-nine states for governor. Wisconsin will have two big statewide races. Governor Scott Walker is running for a third term. Senator Tammy Baldwin is seeking a second term. This post will analyze the elections in Wisconsin and then look at a national level.

Wisconsin's elections are unique in that one incumbent is a Republican and one is a Democrat. Some people think this means one of the incumbents has to lose, but this isn't always the case. In 1998, Republican Tommy Thompson won his fourth gubernatorial election by a landslide, but Democrat Russ Feingold won another term in the Senate election. Nevertheless, in this polarized political climate it is possible that few people will split their vote between a Republican and a Democrat.

Walker is being challenged by no less than eighteen Democrats, a primary race that will be reminiscent of the very divided Republican field for president ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The sheer size of the Democratic field makes sense when you consider history. The Republicans now control the White House, so Democrats anticipate winning elections in midterms to be easier.

A poll from Public Policy Polling shows Department of Public Instruction superintendent Tony Evers ahead of the rest field by a wide margin, with 29 percent. On one hand, this makes sense because Evers is the only statewide elected official in the field. He has the name familiarity other Democrats do not have. However, I'd still advise caution because it was paid for by his campaign. Nevertheless, Evers has $312,000 in funds, a good start for his campaign.

In second place is State Senator Kathleen Vinehout with 11 percent. Vinehout is from Alma, rural territory in the state of Wisconsin. She has the potential to appeal to many rural voters who have been turned off by Democrats in recent years, but she has many problems. The first is lack of funding. She has raised only $83,000 since her announcement. Many of her competitors have a lot more money than she does, meaning that she might peak early.

Adding to Vinehout's difficulties is the candidacy of State Representative Dana Wachs, whose Assembly district is in Vinehout's Senate district. He is very far behind in the polls with just 4 percent, but he has already raised a decent amount of money. He was able to get over $500,000 and currently has $163,200 in cash. Wachs, a trial attorney from Eau Claire, is wealthy and gave his campaign almost half of the money.

Paul Soglin announces his candidacy for governor - Michelle Stocker
In third place with 10 percent is the mayor of Madison, Paul Soglin. Soglin is one of the most left-wing candidates in the field. His decision to run is largely because of how well Bernie Sanders did in the Democratic primary for president. His candidacy is recent, which means being third place already is a good start. There is no financial information out for him yet. There are many other Democrats in the race, but they'll be only worth mentioning depending on what happens later.

This nomination race is far different from 2014, when businesswoman Mary Burke was the guaranteed victor and only had one minor opponent. However, Democrats should worry their wide field of candidates. Whereas, Burke managed to raised $1.8 million at this same point in time without needing to spend much, many of the current candidates will be using their money to attack each other before focusing on Walker, who has amassed a war chest of $4.2 million.

As for Baldwin, she is being challenged by two Republicans at the moment. There's State Senator Leah Vukmir and veteran Kevin Nicholson. I've already decided to back Vukmir because I really like her conservative track record. She has been one of Wisconsin's best reformers and is in a good position to win the primary thanks to her constituency including powerful conservative suburbs in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

While the race only consists of two candidates, battle lines are already being drawn. Vukmir has a big edge in terms of endorsements, including many fellow Republican legislators and conservative activists. She has also received the endorsement of Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff and a Wisconsin native. Nicholson has received a lot of outside support, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon and the Club for Growth. As of now, the only polling that has been done on the race is also biased and paid for by Nicholson's campaign. Like the gubernatorial race, we will have to wait for independent polls.

There is one other serious candidate who might enter the race. Madison businessman Eric Hovde was the runner-up in 2012 and could self-fund his campaign. His problem is that he is taking forever to enter the race and this could give him less time to organize an effective campaign.

Should Republicans be cautious about 2018? A special election for the State Senate last month indicates they should be. State Representative Adam Jarchow, a Republican, ran against chief medical examiner Patty Schachtner, the Democrat. The latter won, ending Republican control of the 10th district for seventeen years.

While history is against, things can still change in the GOP's favor. The Democratic lead in the generic congressionally ballot has been taking a toll in February due to the disastrous idea of having a government shutdown. On January 12, they had a lead of 11.2 percentage points, but now that lead is down to 6.7 percentage points. The Republican tax cuts have also played a role because of the immediate effect of jumpstarting the American economy. If the Democrats continue to make mistakes and the economy booms, then I don't see why Republicans wouldn't win the 2018 midterms. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Other Christmas Gift: Defeating ISIS

Iraqi soldiers in Ramadi during the war against ISIS - AP
Around the same time the tax cut passed, there was other good news for the Trump administration at the international level. Thanks to greater American military efforts in the Middle East under Secretary of Defense James Mattis, most of the 98 percent of territory ISIS has lost has been during Trump's presidency.

At the time of President Trump's inauguration on January 20, ISIS controlled 17,500 square miles and had an estimated 35,000 fighters. By the end of the year, the military estimated that ISIS only controlled 1,900 square miles with just 1,000 fighters remaining. Territory was already being lost under the leader of President Obama, but many officials have credited Trump with an accelerated defeat of the terrorists.

One of the people who has complimented Trump for not micromanaging is Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the leader of the coalition battling ISIS until September. Here's a transcript of his remarks on August 31:
Q:  Hi, sir.

We have heard in Washington that the White House has decentralized decision-making -- tactical decision-making down to your level and below, more than the Obama administration had.  Brett McGurk has laid this out a few times in Washington.

Can you give a couple of practical examples of how this decentralization has helped in your campaign to so-call annihilate ISIS?  And then I have a follow-up on a different subject.

GEN. TOWNSEND:  Okay.  I will say that the current administration has pushed decision-making down into the military chain of command.  And I don't know of a commander in our armed forces that doesn't appreciate that.  I'll -- I'll prefer not to go into specific examples.

I will say that probably a key result of that is that we don't get second-guessed a lot.  Our judgment here on the battlefield in the forward areas is trusted.  And we don't get 20 questions with every action that happens on the battlefield and every action that we take.

And again, I think every commander that I know of appreciates being given the authority and responsibility, and then the trust and backing to implement that.  So, that's what I'll say.
Trump has also received praise from Brett McGurk, the State Department's senior envoy to the coalition, who has said that taking a hands-off approach and giving commanders more leeway has contributed to the speedy victory against ISIS.

With a glorious victory on the way, the new task for the Trump administration is going to be remaining vigilant and keeping the peace in the Middle East. There cannot be withdrawal from Iraq like there was during Obama. The United States must confront threats immediately with hard force, no matter where they show up.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Best, the Okay, and the Worst of 2017

I thought it would be cool to recap the major political events of 2017 and give my take on them. Some thing that happened were great, some terrible, and some were in the middle. Here's what I came up with.

The Best

Neil Gorsuch

Trump with Gorsuch - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Donald Trump fulfilled a big promise early in his president when he made Neil Gorsuch the next Supreme Court justice. The importance of appointing Gorsuch was to satisfy several conservatives (including myself) who were worried that he wasn't going to come through on his promises. This early victory was important for him to rally his base.

Reverse on Cuba

As a conservative and someone who has Cuban heritage, I have never been in favor of opening the United States with the communist dictatorship that has murdered 73,000 people unless changes are made or the regime is toppled. President Barack Obama didn't seem to care much for the Cuban-American population and decide to open relations with Cuba after he won his second term.

Trump, whether it be on his own accord or from the advice of others, understood the anger that was there. The president partly won Florida in 2016 thanks to the Cuban population in Miami and other areas in the south of the state. He has now ended the Obama policy on Cuba with a special ceremony in Miami. The audience surrounding him celebrated, just a many Cuban exiles and their descendants had when Fidel Castro died last year.

Tax Reform

Mitch McConnell speaks on tax reform - Getty Images
America needs a tax cut. Under Trump and the Republican Congress, we are finally (hopefully) about to get one. If a tax cut is implemented, then the United States is guaranteed to enjoy higher wages, economic growth, and private investment. A return of oversees capital held by multinational corporations could potentially lead to higher revenue than expected in the long run.

Mugabe Ousted

Robert Mugabe could have been a promising leader who unified blacks and whites together after he took power in Zimbabwe. Sadly, this wasn't the case. While his rise to power was important for the liberation of blacks who live in Zimbabwe, every move he made afterward only worsened the country and sent it into a state of decay. Mugabe became a Marxist dictator who only brought strife to his people. He has now lost power in a military coup. Let's hope Emmerson Mnangagwa is a better for the people of Zimbabwe.

ISIS Driven out of Iraq

In the Middle East, there has been a lot of success in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It is estimated that 98 percent of its territory has been lost since Trump took office. The recapture of East Mosul by forces battling ISIS paved the way for defeat of one of the world's most barbaric and insidious organizations. The Trump administration should immediately move to maintain stability in the region so that an ISIS problem does not reoccur.

The Okay

Theresa May's Failed Gamble

Theresa May speaks at the 2017 party conference - PA
When Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election for June, she held a massive lead in the polls that made a landslide seem inevitable. It wasn't meant to be. Over the short campaign season, the Conservatives blundered numerous times. Terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom only added to her grief. In the end, the Conservatives lost seats and were forced into a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

The coalition government barely holds a majority. As a result, Brexit negotiations have fallen apart. Several right-wing Britons demand May's resignation in favor of other politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, but it's unclear a replacement could do any better with things as is.

The general election added some legitimacy to socialism. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party's current leader, is one of the most left-wing politicians in the House of Commons.

Angela Merkel Wins, but is Weakened

Chancellor Angela Merkel fended off threats from the right and the left. Her Christian Democratic Union won this year's federal election, but it is a lot smaller than before. With the Social Democrats declaring that they will never do a coalition again, Merkel only had the "Jamaica" option left to preserve some kind of order.

Talks with the Free Democratic Party and the Green Party have now failed, making governing Germany very difficult. There is a risk another general election will be called, which could benefit the populist insurgent Alternative for Germany. More seats for the AfD, however, will only lead to greater dysfunction in the Bundestag.

The Worst

Francois Fillon's Defeat in France

Fillon concedes - NDTV
Early in the year, I made it clear that I wanted Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, to win the French presidential election. Fillon won the nomination of the Republicans because he wanted to bring ambitious Thatcherite reforms to France. These needed changes would have helped the economy end the long-term bust it has been plagued with. Additionally, his proposal to spend more money on the French military could have given the United States a very reliable ally.

Unfortunately, Fillon lost his edge from scandals that showed he gave his wife a fake job when he was in office. The Fillons received a nice payout, but that hurt them electorally. Emmanuel Macron, the victor, is an improvement from socialist President Francois Hollande, but I don't think the changes he desires will be enough.

Health Care Reform Flop

It was the biggest promise the GOP made over the entire Obama presidency. His signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, proved to be an unpopular mess that only added to the overwhelming burden of government bureaucracy. Millions of Americans across the country have lost their personal insurance due to skyrocketing deductibles. The horrible roll-out of the health care law led to a major Republican victory in the 2014 midterms and continued success in 2016.

With these victories, you'd think repeal would've been easy? In truth, health care reform was highly complex. First, Paul Ryan's proposal in the House of Representatives was destroyed by the House Freedom Caucus. Eventually, the speaker of the house managed to unite enough voters for passage, but the narrow Republican majority in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, added to the difficulties. Three Republican moderates (John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski) sank the best chance there was to repeal and replace Obamacare. The GOP might never have such a chance again.

Venezuela's Continued Collapse

Protests in Venezuela - Eyevine
The people of Venezuela have suffered from another year of failed socialist leadership under Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela enjoyed a steady stream of revenue from oil production, but this is no longer enough and exposes the weakness of socialist economics. The free market is simply better at diversifying an economy because it leaves entrepreneurs and investors to their own devices.

The economic situation in Venezuela has crushed whatever private businesses existed in the country. Maduro will find it easy to crush political dissidents, but it will be hard for him to appease his creditors. The only way to make things better for Venezuela is for Maduro to fall. If that happens, then reforms need to be implemented that will bring capitalism and democracy to the people.