Monday, May 22, 2017

Trump needs to be careful

Charles Krauthammer, one of my favorite columnists, posted a good article recently on the mess President Trump has gotten himself into. Krauthammer points to three main problems the president has had, all of them arising within ten days. I wanted to bring these controversies up and add what I think on top of them.

First, there was the firing of James Comey. Comey should have been gone earlier, but Trump kept him until now. Firing the FBI director while he was in the midst of a probe that links Russian officials and members of the Trump administration made the Democrats look like a bunch of hypocrites, but it also hurt the president and made him increasingly defensive. At first his staff (including Vice President Mike Pence) said the Justice Department recommended the dismissal, but then Trump said he was going to fire Comey "regardless of the recommendation."

Okay, so this is one problem. Trump says what he wants, but this means ignoring (or perhaps forgetting) what his staff is trying to do. It wouldn't be too much to handle if he made two more mistakes after it.

The second was a meeting with Russian officials. Never mind the bad timing of it coinciding with the firing of a man involved in a Russo-American investigation, but the media had a new target when it was discovered that Trump may have disclosed confidential information on ISIS with the Russians. His aides rushed to his defense, saying that simply did not happen. Then Trump added confusion by tweeting that he had the right to share information "pertaining" to terrorism. He did not say he shared classified information, but it did put White House officials on the defensive. Meanwhile, national security adviser H.R. McMaster pointed out the very real problem of people in the White House leaking out information to the press, making the business of governing highly difficult.

Two problems means less time to do the things Trump should be focusing on. The White House is waiting time on scandal rather than on policy. It isn't easy for Paul Ryan to implement while the president is under fire. However, I don't think Trump contradicted his staff on this topic and McMaster has settled the issue at the moment. This is nothing compared to what comes next, which returns to Comey.

Only days after he was fired, it was discovered that Trump asked him to end the investigation into national security adviser Mike Flynn. This is according to a memo by Comey. Of all three controversies, this one is the most damaging. It led to the creation of an independent investigation and Comey will now testify before the Senate intelligence committee. The White House has received some good news. Flynn was cleared in the probe linking him to Russia.

Whatever the results of the investigation, none of it helps Trump and all of it will help the Democrats. Investigations are very good at eating up the political capital of whoever is being investigated. It slows tax reform, health care reform, and deregulation.

Part of this is a matter of communication. Trump manages to contradict statements from the White House and various departments all the time. The president doesn't seem to understand that a media strategy does matter, so he foolishly continues to generate his own dilemmas.

Another big issue is character, something the presidential considerably lacks. I think many Republicans who weren't thrilled about Trump, but still voted for him did so thinking that character wasn't important in the election. They focused on his proposals, which included a conservative Supreme Court choice (which he gave), Obamacare repeal and replace, border security, and tax cuts. These are good things, but his character flaws still matter. Trump rarely acknowledges when he makes mistakes and could be digging his own political coffin (and that of the Republican Party's).

When a president is doing terrible domestically, it makes sense for the White House to draw focus to international politics. Trump's first foreign visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Vatican City could deflect some media attention elsewhere, but there's no way the media is going to abandon the investigation any time soon.

Trump will be occupied with fixing the three controversies before him, but he has to address the two flaws of White House communication and character. The former can be easily fixed, but the latter is going to be difficult and does play a role in Trump's statements that contradict his staff. Either way, Trump might want to start building some character now because he needs more than ever.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Colossal Hypocrisy of the Democrats on Comey

Outgoing FBI Director James Comey - Francis Rivera
President Trump's decision to fire James Comey, the FBI director who became very controversial during the 2016 election, has led to a media frenzy and outrage from the Democrats. Many of them are saying that he shouldn't have been fired. The only problem is that of these Democrats opposed Comey during and just after the election. Here's a list.

Chuck Schumer

On November 2, 2016, the New York senator and current minority leader said he "lost confidence" in Comey over the email probe into Hillary Clinton. Now he opposes Comey's removal from the FBI, so that confidence must have miraculously returned. It's a clear case of politics over consistency, but we have more examples on the way.

Bernie Sanders

The presidential candidate who took second place in the Democratic race wanted Comey to resign on January 15, 2017. Now his tune has changed. Here's the official statement:
“Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey raises serious questions about what his administration is hiding. Why did President Trump fire the person leading the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government? I find it deeply troubling that this decision comes a day after damning testimony by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign and just days before Comey was scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. 
“President Trump has repeatedly taken steps to kill inquiries into Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election. It is clear that whomever President Trump handpicks to lead the FBI will not be able to objectively carry out this investigation. We need an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”
Elizabeth Warren

The Massachusetts senator is an early favorite for the Democrats in 2020 and she knows it. This means being at the front of all the new political battles. She has accused Trump of firing Comey because of the FBI's probe into Russia in order to save members of his campaign. She was never pleased with the way the FBI handled investigations into Clinton and was also disappointed when it failed to charge bankers. Apparently, this did not justify Comey's firing in her eyes.

Maxine Waters

Representative Waters has been known for making some of the most ludicrous statements of any politician in recent history. In this case, Waters would have no problem if Clinton was president and fired Comey. She only has a problem if Trump does it because he might be implicated in the investigation. Waters previously said she believed the FBI director had "no credibility." First off, I'm not sure she's aware that the director of the FBI is not the only person involved in an investigation. Secondly, if he has "no credibility" then why is she not jumping for joy upon his removal?

Steve Cohen

A representative from Tennessee, Cohen actually wrote an op-ed on November 3 arguing that Comey should have resigned. Now he released a statement declaring that Trump's decision to fire him is "reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre." I'm not going to go into too much detail about what this is, but it occurred during the Watergate scandal when President Richard Nixon fired three members of the Justice Department who were investigating his administration's involvement. That should be enough to inform of the circumstances, which are very different from now.

For all the talk of Trump firing Comey over the investigation to see if they're any links between his campaign and the Russian government, I think it's worth noting Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who said there is no evidence of collusion between his campaign aides and the Russians.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Local Elections point to Conservative Landslide

May campaigning in Leeds on April 27 - Anthony Devil/Pool/Reuters
If anyone doubted the United Kingdom's polls for the general election, then those doubts should have evaporated with the local election results on May 4. The Conservatives won a landslide over Labour, building momentum for June 8. It just goes to show that there's little chance of the Labour Party being able to stop the onslaught they will suffer.

I've brought up British local elections before, but I think I need to repeat what they are since there's so little attention on them. Local elections are held every year in the UK, with some being more significant than others. Think of them as like midterms in the United States. British voters elect councils like American voters elect state legislatures. In 2017, there were 34 councils in England, all 32 councils in Scotland, and all 22 councils in Wales that had their terms up. There were also eight mayors who would be directly elected.

I think the local elections matter because of their proximity to the general election. It's now less than a month away. I cannot foresee Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister unless some catastrophe were to happen. Here's the results:

Councils

Conservative Party (Theresa May) - 28 (+11)
Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn) - 9 (-7)
Party of Wales (Leanne Wood) - 1 (+/-)
Liberal Democrats (Tim Farron) - 0 (+/-)
Scottish Nationalists (Nicola Sturgeon) - 0 (-1)

Councilors

Conservatives - 1,899 (+563)
Labour - 1,152 (-382)
Liberal Democrats  - 441 (-42)
Scottish Nationalists - 431 (+6)
Party of Wales - 202 (+33)

In more bad news for Corbyn, the Labour Party's election manifesto has been leaked. It includes everything you'd expect from an old British socialist. It includes renationalizing sectors in the economy like rail and energy, large tax increases, and more government spending fueled by extra borrowing. Corbyn is nostalgic for the years of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, a time when Britain was declining until Margaret Thatcher arrived to save the nation through market reforms.

The members of his shadow cabinet aren't helping either. The man to be chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell, is someone who has no problem taking part in a May Day event at Trafalgar Square in London with flags from different communist regimes, including that of Bashar al-Assad's. McDonnell and Corbyn have no problem showering praise on Karl Marx, the former saying people "could learn a lot" from him and the latter declaring the socialist founder a "great economic thinker."

Maybe the problem for Labour is the problem most socialists have: they don't know how to count. Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, gave super rosy estimates on how much it would cost to hire 10,000 additional police officers. She had a another train wreck of an interview with not knowing what Labour's losses were in the local elections.

Theresa May can campaign easy right now.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

On Call of Duty: WWII and the SJWs who hate it

Worldwide Reveal ad
The announcement of Call of Duty: WWII is, in my opinion, a great move by Activison. Some of you might remember almost the same time last year, when I criticized the makers of the franchise for taking a futuristic direction rather than historic one. Now the publishers have heard from the consumers and are going to return to their roots. They have the opportunity to win back many people who have left the franchise (I haven't bought a game in the series since 2014).

Sales for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare underperformed compared to previous games. By going back to the Second World War, many people no longer view Activision negatively like they used to. The game, of course, is not out yet and there is possibility that the makers of the new edition to franchise could get it wrong, but as of now the reveal has been widely successful. Not only is the video the fastest in the franchise to get over 10 million views in a day, but if you look at likes and dislikes it is far different from Infinite Warfare:


Unlike the last game, this one is popular. It also shows something I've said for a while: history is winning! The decision to go with World War II came down to vote for either a game that focused on the past or to go with another unnecessary game that takes place in a futuristic setting. Remember that the last Call of Duty game on World War II was World at War, which came out in 2008. Activision has another advantage in that EA, their main competition for this year, will continue the Star Wars franchise with Battlefront II.

While most of the characters in the game will be white men, one of the most interesting things about the new game is that it will include playable female characters in multiplayer and it sounds like the campaign will also have a character who is an African-American and another character who is a child. This offers players more experiences from people of different backgrounds during the war. I think this is a good idea and at first I thought most people who love video games would support Activision's decision. That is until I read an article from Polygon:
It reads like a marketer’s checklist for suitable diversity, a roster of token characters that doesn’t acknowledge their experiences more than it pats the publisher on the back. Sledgehammer staffers’ repeated references to “brotherhood” also speak clearly to the fact this game will be told from a very traditional perspective.
From what we saw and heard about this game today, that tradition doesn’t genuinely include brothers of other races, or brothers who don’t identify as male. It’s important to note that segregation was still very much enforced during the time period, including within the American military. And judging by the attention Sledgehammer is paying to period firearms and the sounds they make, Call of Duty: WWII is all about preserving historical authenticity.
Rather than consider that the makers of the game wanted to genuinely show players what it was like to be a woman or a black man during the war and also tell a story of the Second World War that they were passionate about, all these writers prefer to believe that the female and black characters are being used as "tokens" merely to promote diversity. I could spend the next several paragraphs refuting this, but I think this video on YouTube by Skill Up does it perfectly:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

It's on!

Theresa May announcing the general election - Getty Images
On a move that even shocked members of her cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May has called a general election in the United Kingdom that will be held on June 8. Since becoming prime minister after the resignation of David Cameron and the Brexit vote, May has told the country that she is guaranteeing a departure from the European Union.

Since then, things haven't been always going smoothly. This is partly the result of the 2015 general election. The Conservative Party managed to win a surprising majority, but it was still very narrow. The Conservatives only lead by four seats in the House of Commons. You need 326 members to hold a majority. Here's the numbers as of now:

Conservative Party (Theresa May) - 330
Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn) - 229
Scottish Nationalists (Nicola Sturgeon) - 56
Liberal Democrats (Tim Farron) - 8
DUP (Arlene Foster) - 8
Sinn Fein (Gerry Adams) - 4
SDLP (Colum Eastwood) - 3
Party of Wales (Leanne Wood) - 3
UUP (Robin Swann) - 2
UKIP (Paul Nuttall) - 1
Green Party (Caroline Lucas) - 1

The reasons she called a general election are obvious. Theresa May is widely popular and the Conservatives now hold double-digit leads over Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. If she continues to lead in the double-digits, then she could enter the House of Commons after June 8 with a massive Conservative majority of over 100 seats. It's a gamble, but in my view only an idiot wouldn't call an early general election with soaring poll numbers.

Since her announcement, it is true that the Conservative Party's lead has reduced slightly, but this is not too significant at the moment. The latest poll from YouGov/Sunday Times poll has them up by a margin of 13 percent, with 44 percent of the vote to Labour's 31 percent. Another poll from ICM/Sun on Sunday indicates the Conservatives with a 19 percent lead over Labour (47 percent to 28 percent).

Though these margins are smaller than before she made the election announcement (she often led by margins of 20 percent or more), her party still performs better than Tony Blair's Labour Party in 1997, which won by a margin of 12.5 percent. She also runs better than Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives in the 1983 general election, which won by a margin of 14.8 percent.

In many ways, this election looks a lot like 1983. A popular female prime minister who leads the Conservative Party is going up against an elderly leftist leading Labour. This election might just end up being a reenactment.

Labour itself is going to find it difficult to climb back up and control Westminster. This is partly because of the Scottish Nationalists. Currently, the Conservatives are set to make gains in Scotland rather than Labour. The Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, are unlikely to win the most seats in the northern region of the United Kingdom, but they are expected to make a breakthrough that has not been achieved since all their seats were lost in 1997.

With Labour no longer appealing in Scotland, it will be difficult to make any gains. Then there's what's happening with UKIP, which looks like it will lose about half their supporters to the Conservatives. This is because May is guaranteeing the country Brexit. It makes more sense to back the party in power, even if UKIP was instrumental in pushing Britain towards leaving the European Union.

The Liberal Democrats might make gains from their massacre in 2015 and they have decided to position themselves as the only anti-Brexit party. This could peel votes on the left away from Labour, another thorn in the side of Corbyn's campaign.

Lastly, the Labour Party's own supporters aren't even that loyal. This is largely because of Corbyn's weak leadership and his left-wing ideology. By moving away from the center, many moderates (people who strongly supported the party under Blair) are not willing to support Corbyn. Simultaneously, polling data has found that working class voters are abandoning the party in droves for the Conservatives in addition to their support among middle class voters.

May's decision to hold a snap general election is a gamble, but it is a very good gamble. With her poll numbers high, it looks like she will sail easily into Downing Street. Yes, she has some faults. She is very repetitive (sort of brings up memories of Marco Rubio) and might not hold the line on taxes, but has very easy opponents. It looks good for the Conservatives, with the election just over a month away.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Macron will likely win in France

Emmanuel Macron - Getty Images
Though the first round seemed to be tightening towards the end, front-runners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have advanced. The results are as follows:

Emmanuel Macron (On the Move) - 24.01%
Marine Le Pen (National Front) - 21.30%
Francois Fillon (Republicans) - 20.01%
Jean-Luc Melenchon (Unbowed France) - 19.58%
Benoit Hamon (Socialist Party) - 6.36%

It's a historic moment for the French. Neither of the two major parties, the Socialists and the Republicans, made it to the second round. In the case of Benoit Hamon, his problem was the immense baggage that came with being a member of the incumbent party. Francois Hollande's leadership has been weak, the economy is still in the tank, and the Socialist Party has suffered from constant scandals. I hope Bernie Sanders supporters watched what happened in France over the last five years. This is what you get when you elect democratic socialists.

As for my favorite of the five major candidates, Francois Fillon dropped the ball on what should have been an easy race. His problem was that he conducted himself badly in government by giving his wife and children fictitious jobs with fat salaries. Though he did receive a sort of small, last-minute momentum from people who wanted free market reforms and a powerful military (an Ifop-Fiducial poll at the beginning of April showed him at 17%, but just before voting he had climbed to 19.5%), it was not enough. France will have to wait longer to get its Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.

The French left, dissatisfied with Hamon, decided that going from socialism to communism would make things better (hint: it wouldn't). They quickly rallied to Jean-Luc Melenchon in April. This was mainly because of his rhetorical skills. In truth, his use of holographic imagery to campaign in multiple place at once makes him the most innovative campaigner in recent history. However, you cannot win on charisma alone. That's why he fell short.

That leaves the French with the establishment's choice versus the populist insurgent. Macron was a member of the Socialist Party and part of Hollande's government as an economy minister. Many in the party did not like his centrism, so he pushed out of his office. This led him to create his own political movement called On the Move (En Marche! in French, notice that the name uses his initials).

Macron is still on the left and his reforms, though business-friendly, are nothing compared to what Fillon wanted. Then there's the refugee crisis. He has said that France is just going to have to live with the rise of terrorist attacks occurring in the country. This is a defeatist's strategy to handling the problem. Taking vast numbers of people was seen as humanitarian and was intended to help grow the labor force, but it is important to realize that these are refugees who had no intention of moving to France before ISIS and the Syrian Civil War. There are things in French culture (and western culture in general) that are simply not compatible with Arab culture. This is why so many voters are angry in France.

I do not think Marine Le Pen will win the presidential election. Unlike the election in my country, in which both candidates were generally within the margin of error, Macron's lead is huge. I could be wrong, but I just can't see a massive double-digit dip within less than two weeks. The only problems Macron seems to have is the threat of Russian hackers (which the French have prepared for) and his relationship with his old wife who he met when she was a teacher in his school.

In terms of policy, I think from a refugee standpoint Macron could be negative for France, since he's too status quo, but many of the French people can't see themselves taking as far a right turn as voting for Le Pen. Macron is also good for the United States, by wanting to say in NATO (though like Trump, I imagine the NATO skeptic Le Pen might changed her views after elected). As of now, I think Macron is in good shape to win.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Tight, Somewhat Unpredictable French Election

The top French candidates at a debate - Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images
European politics continue to be chaotic. Angela Merkel is now seriously in trouble, according to recent polls. Theresa May has decided to call a general election in the United Kingdom. The French election, however, is first. There has been nothing more unpredictable and unprecedented than this race. Each week brings something new.

For most of the race, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have been leading to go into the second. With the first round on Sunday, it is expected that both candidates will make it and go head-to-head in the second, where polling initially shows Macron prevailing. The problem for both candidates is that Macron's support is quite soft while Le Pen is prone to gaffes. There are also two major threats to the front-runners who have not gone away.

Francois Fillon, the Republican nominee, simply isn't going away. The former prime minister has had to deal with scandals, but he has a solid fifth of the French electorate backing him. This coalition of Catholic traditionalists and the people in business community is very formidable. He also seems to have some sort of momentum as the first round gets closer. It might not be enough to get him into the next round, but it is enough to keep the free market reformist in the game. What matters for Fillon is how many voters he can convince at the last minute before voting.

What has happened in the French left is even more shocking. The incumbent Socialist Party is so unpopular that their candidate, former Minister of National Education Benoit Hamon, is polling under 10 percent. The French left is moving further way from the center and rally behind communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, a member of the European Parliament. Melenchon is the exact opposite of the Thatcherite Fillon. He has proposed a possible withdrawal from the European Union, a departure from NATO, a 100 billion euro economic stimulus plan, nationalization of many sectors, and an (Good Lord) 100 percent income tax on people making 360,000 euros a year.

Melenchon has been a very good debater. Two debates have taken place and he has stood out in both of them. This has propelled him into a virtual tie with Fillon. Another factor in Melenchon's rise is just how innovative his campaign has been. He has used projection screens to give speeches at multiple locations.

As for now, Macron and Le Pen look like safe bets to enter the second round, but their leads are shrinking as Fillon and Melenchon make gains. With the race starting to get tight, there is a rising uncertainty about what to expect the night of the first round.

It really comes down to where the French they're going on the economy and the refugee crisis. Marine Le Pen is very popular because of her "France for the French" campaign rhetoric. She represents major change in French politics. Macron is basically representing the establishment even if he left the Socialist Party to form his own movement.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Health Care Reform Collapses

It was one of the most central arguments made by Republicans for seven years. They said over and over again that Obamacare needed to be repealed and replaced. It was a winning issue with the American people, who gave the GOP victories in the two recent midterm elections before finally handing them the presidency in 2016. The moment to reform health care finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the best moment has been wasted. A proposal was put forward, but it sunk after being revealed in a few weeks. It sort of makes me feel that all those years of winning elections was useless.

In my opinion, no one bares more blame than members of the House Freedom Caucus. Contrary to their arguments, this was a market plan that would that had many improvements from the Affordable Care Act. However, this grand health care plan was destroyed by eighteen members of the House of Representatives because they claimed it was too liberal, while 199 (six Republicans and 193 Democrats) opposed it for being too conservative. The consequences are massive. Any new Republican proposal would require support from Democrats because moving further to the right would lead to a lack of support among GOP moderates (the so-called Tuesday Group).

I don't think this is the end for reform, but a new bill in 2018 is likely to have less meaningful changes. It is now even more likely that Obamacare will stay in place. President Obama is smiling because his policy is maintained and any concessions made by Nancy Pelosi would be embarrassing to them. They want to prove that the Affordable Care Act is working and that means ensuring that there are no chances. As you'd expect, Democrats were ecstatic with the results.

The biggest loser of the American Health Care Act's failure is the American people. Some Republicans, including CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, just want Obamacare to crash. I think this is a mistake because more people will get hurt from the existing law and they can blame the GOP for doing nothing. A 2013 report from eHealth, Inc found that Obamacare regulations like the essential health benefits requirement raises premiums by 47 percent for individual insurance plans. A study from the Brookings Institution in the fall of 2014 covered a state by state impact. It concluded that the Affordable Care Act has only been more costly. The whole point of handing them the keys to Congress and the White House was because they supported change.

As for the Republicans in Congress, they have decided to move on to other issues like tax reform and immigration policy. There's no real reason to waste extra political capital on health care if it is just going to stall things. I'm worried that some Republicans might continue trying to stay pure, rather than go with the advise of Reagan (example: "A flat tax or we're voting no.") which could really endanger the GOP in the 2018 midterms and 2020.