Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Of Course Trading for Bowe Bergdahl was a Mistake

Bowe Bergdahl at the Fort Bragg military courthouse
When Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier in the United States Army, was traded in exchange for five Taliban members in 2014, President Barack Obama held a press conference celebrating his return. Many Democrats and liberals in media followed suit. In fact, before the trade Fox News was criticized in July 2009 because retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters said on of their programs that Bergdahl "abandoned his buddies, abandoned his post, and walked off." Peters, who is known for his blunt personality, doubled down.

Fast forward to 2017 and the "hero" Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion. His decision to flee led to the deaths of six soldiers who were searching for him. In my opinion, the costs were of the trade were too great and I am someone who believes terrorists should never be negotiated with. Obama's decision was a disaster and it should've never been made. Sadly, Bergdahl won't be suffering any punishments for his desertion. The judge has ruled no jail time.

Eight years after being attacked by politicians and media pundits, Ralph Peters wrote an excellent opinion article on the Bergdahl decision. He concluded:
This case isn’t just about punishing one jerk. It’s about the combat effectiveness of our military in time of war. While the man is judged, the institution is sentenced. 
That judge condemned the institution when he decided that Bergdahl should go free. 
We expect explanations. 
Meanwhile, Bergdahl can celebrate. The activist left can celebrate. Former President Barack Obama can claim redemption and Susan Rice can grunt with satisfaction that, despite his dishonorable discharge, Bergdahl kinda-sorta “served with honor and distinction,” didn’t he? 
And the widows Bergdahl’s actions left behind can go to hell. Wives serving their own life sentences of caring for heroes incapacitated by wounds because of Bergdahl’s treachery can be damned. His comrades who served honorably can kiss off. Let’s all line up and spit on those who serve proudly. 
This is a wonderful day for America’s enemies, foreign and domestic.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Right Rises Among German-Speaking Peoples

Angela Merkel's speech following electoral victory - Reuters
No one was surprised when the Christian Democratic Union secured its fourth term. Angela Merkel's popularity has declined since the last federal election in 2013, but not by enough for her premiership to be in any serious danger.

Yet despite the celebrations among CDU voters, there is some rightful concern. Since first becoming chancellor in 2005, she steadily moved her party to the center. This opened up a vacuum on the right that could be exploited in the event of a crisis. The Syrian Civil War triggered the exact confrontation that Merkel hoped to avoid. No one should deny that Merkel has incredible talents as a politician. She has maintained a coalition of center-left, center-right, and more ideologically conservative voters, but over 1 million CDU supporters decided to vote for the Alternative for Germany and Alice Weidel. The CDU won 32.9 percent of the German voters. They won 41.5 percent four years ago.

The final results from the election on September 24 are as follows:

Christian Democratic Union (Angela Merkel) - 246 (-65)
Social Democratic Party (Martin Schulz) - 153 (-40)
Alternative for Germany (Alice Weidel) - 94 (+94)
Free Democratic Party (Christian Lindner) - 80 (+80)
The Left (Sahra Wagenknecht) - 69 (+5)
Green Party (Katrin Göring-Eckardt) - 67 (+4)

Forming a coalition will not be easy for Merkel. Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz has declared that there will be no coalition with Merkel following the election. The SPD continues to find itself in a worse political situation following every election. Even if Schulz wasn't going to become chancellor, there was some early anticipation among SPD loyalists that he'd at least increase the size of his party in the Bundestag. Alas, his party only won 20.5 percent of the votes, down from 25.7 percent in 2013.

There are two parties that Merkel won't form a coalition with. Unmistakably, the AfD is not an option because of their staunch opposition to the European Union and to migration. The other party she vehemently opposes is The Left. For readers of my blog who aren't familiar with this party, it basically encompasses old fashioned communists and younger voters who hold a romantic view of the pro-Soviet German Democratic Republic.

Christian Lindner at an FDP rally in December 2013 - Adam Berry/Getty Images
That leaves two other parties. The Free Democratic Party was the junior partner of a coalition with the CDU after the 2009 election. In 2013, the party faced a major setback when they failed to meet the 5 percent threshold needed to be in the Bundestag. Fortunately, FDP leader Christian Lindner repaired the party's imaged and doubled the vote total, from 4.8 percent in 2013 to 10.7 percent now.

While the AfD is similar to Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, the FDP would be the party of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. In general, Merkel has a fiscally conservative economic record, which is why she finds the FDP appealing. The problem is a coalition between the two still does not meet the number of seats needed for a majority.

The final party to win seats is the Green Party. As in the United States, the Greens in Germany are what you expect. They are a left-wing party that emphasizes environmental protection. Merkel does have a strong environmental record, but that might not be enough to bring them into the fold. It's hard to see the FDP and the Greens working together in a coalition. What's being called the Jamaica Coalition is possible, but demanding.

In response to the AfD's rise, Merkel wants to take her party even further to the left. At a conference for the youth-wing of the CDU, she said she believes the party prioritizes the economy too much and should focus more on individuals. Jens Spahn, a CDU member of the Bundestag, holds a very different view. In his speech the night before at the conference, he asked, "Does anyone seriously believe we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?"

This election could very well be Merkel's last. The question is what kind of party the CDU will be when she leaves (if she leaves before the next election at all). Merkel is doing her best to prevent a major shift to the right, but I can see that happening when she's gone. If the CDU continues to follow her beliefs, then it could lead to more losses in the next federal election. Conservative voters are deeply concerned with the refugee crisis, but at the moment a U-turn within the CDU will not take place under Merkel.

Sebastian Kurz gives his victory speech - Reuters
While the AfD won't be part of any coalition in Germany, their equivalent in Austria will have power. The New People's Party has won first place with 62 seats, a gain of fifteen. Their leader, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, will seek a coalition with the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria. Europe's first millennial leader will give right-wing forces in his country the ability to implement an agenda.

The FPO has a neo-Nazi past, but has become more mainstream under leader Heinz-Christian Strache. Anti-Semitism has been dumped for opposition of Islamic refugee migration and economic nationalism. He has said that Anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in his government. As for the larger party, Kurz has brought other, more symbolic changes as well. Originally, it was called the Austrian People's Party until he changed the name. Additionally, he changed the color from black (traditionally used by parties on the right, including the CDU) to turquoise.

The rise of the Austrian right poses major problems for Merkel and her ally Emmanuel Macron. He has been an outspoken critic of the European Union and demands that his fellow leaders do more to defend their borders. He also wants to limit access of refugees to welfare. As for European politics, Kurz says he wants to "bridge" the divide between western European leaders who want to keep the status quo and eastern European leaders who desire reform.

Kurz can be a very promising leader if he plays a crucial role in improving relations among European countries. At the same time, his rise is another defeat for Europe's establishment. While they've enjoyed recent victories in the Netherlands, France, and somewhat in Germany, anti-EU populism can still find areas of success.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Merkel Set for Another Easy Victory

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz before a debate.
German voters will go to the polls on September 24. Some of the key issues are how to treat refugees from the Middle East, Germany's position in the European Union, and its position in the greater world. Through the last four years, Chancellor Angela Merkel has suffered several setbacks, yet she has survived every one of them and is set for another landslide this year.

Problems arose with her decision to accept a seemingly unlimited number of refugees into her nation. She faced a threat from the right. Voters who had more nationalist, patriotic, and Eurosceptic views abandoned the Christian Democratic Union for the Alternative for Germany. The AfD became known as the anti-EU insurgency party. Some members of the CDU began to question Merkel's leadership. Her party was weakened by regional defeats.

Yet those who believed Merkel was on the ropes don't know her too well. Her extreme pragmatism is what keeps her in power and she was aware of the challenges. The CDU's promises in this campaign include boosting deportations of refugees who have links to ISIS or do harm in Germany, increasing defense spending to the NATO requirement of 2 percent of gross domestic product, and has maintained that the United States still remains Germany's most important partner outside of Europe despite disagreements with President Donald Trump.

Decisions like these were attractive to new AfD members, so they rejoined the CDU. Secondly, some of these voters might be thinking strategically and have decided to back the center-right CDU in order to avoid the rise of a Social Democrat chancellor.

At this time, the SPD has been making no gains in the polls. This means that they'll likely remain the junior partner in a coalition government or even lose that position if the pro-market Free Democratic Party secures enough seats for a more right-wing coalition with the CDU. In a very clever moment, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel decided to resign for the good of his party. Martin Schulz took the reigns and offered a clear leftward direction. His manifesto included not raising military spending to the 2 percent of GDP level and greater protections for refugees. The race started to tighten as the SPD shot up in the polls, but momentum stalled almost as soon as it started.

A state election in North-Rhine Westphalia should've been easy for the SPD (Schulz was from there after all), but on May 14 they received disappointing results. The CDU had momentum and won a close race. The SPD has slid back to where it started before Schulz became their party leader. Part of this is due to being in a grand coalition with the CDU. They share the achievements of the last four years. The number of votes who are in traditional blue-collar occupations (the kind of workers the SPD has historically appealed to) has reduced from 37 percent in 2000 to just 19 percent today. There's also the German economy, which has been very strong under Merkel's leadership. The party already looks like it is moving on to the next election.

I predict the CDU will win by a large margin, securing somewhere between 35 and 37 percent of the German vote. The SPD will probably win between 22 and 25 percent, with all the minor political parties around 10 percent or less. This leads to the difficult business of coalition making. In 2013, the Free Democratic Party failed to meet the 5 percent threshold needed to have seats in the Bundestag. They were the junior coalition partner in Merkel's government after 2009 and if they win enough seats this they could be again. The chancellor would prefer a coalition with the FDP because they offer similar parties than the SPD does.

Alternatively, if the CDU and the FDP is not enough, then there's also the option of making the Green Party a third partner. This is being called the "Jamaica coalition" because of the colors of three parties. This coalition would be difficult due to the leftist slant of the Greens, but could be the only option if Merkel wants the SPD out of the equation.

As for the United States, President Trump has many differences with Merkel, but there is no doubt that she is going to be the chancellor he has to work with for the rest of his term. That means maintaining free trade agreements and close diplomatic relations with the Germans. They are a nation the United States cannot afford to ignore.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump Drops the Ball on Charlottesville

Donald Trump's response to the terrorist attack in Charlottesville could've been stronger had he not attempted to defend some members of the alt-right in a Tuesday press conference. During the conference, which took place at Trump Tower in New York City, the president said this:
All of those people — Excuse me — I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. 
So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. But, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
Except the people at the rally in Charlottesville and at the one the night before are anti-Semites and racists. The event was hosted by the likes of Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch. Trump referred several times to that night rally, where hundreds of alt-right members were carrying tiki torches to look scary (they actually looked ridiculous). At the rally, they chanted "Jews will not replace us." There was more to it than defending Confederate statues. They want to exterminate people they don't like.

That's what a neo-Nazi is and the president should know it. Trump has never been a great communicator, but he at least needs to be a competent communicator if he wants to stay as president. Attempting to defend some people in the alt-right is not the way to do that and it will only hinder the progress of his administration.

Batman: The Enemy Within Review

Following the popularity of Batman: The Telltale Series, Telltale Games decided to release a second season on August 8 called Batman: The Enemy Within. I finished playing episode 1 and while I won't be able to complete the game until all episodes are released in the next several months, it does successfully build off  of the first season. I also think it improves from some of the last season's weaknesses.

Since the storyline is interactive, players are forced to make changes that effect relationships in the game. This season introduces players to Amanda Waller, who is often at odds with James Gordon. Both have different methods to fighting crime, leaving the player to choose between the two of them. Is Gordon's traditional style of following due process the just way to hunting criminals or is it preferable to be like Waller and throw civil liberties out the window?

In other cases, players will have to decide how much information they want to give to others. It could help build trust with one character, but it could also risk Batman's secret identity. Speaking of his secret identity, players will also find that they have to spend a good portion of time playing Bruce Wayne.  As Wayne, players can find alternative means to go after criminals. A wealthy businessman, Wayne is guaranteed to attract attention from villains, which endangers himself and his allies. How this is handled is up to the player.

As with Telltale's previous games. Every choice has positives and negatives. Unlike past games, which merely reveal statistics of what choices all the players made, this one includes relationship statuses that could alter the direction of the game in the future.

This season introduces the player to new villains in the series. In addition to the Joker, you'll face the Riddler in this game and he's significantly better villain than Jim Carrey's portrayal in the atrocious Batman Forever. Riddler's obsession is to prove that he's more intelligent than Batman. He wants to prove it by breaking Batman's moral code. This will lead the player to make other tough choices. It also sets up the main premise of this season. Should Batman do everything he needs to defeat the villains, even if it means other people will get hurt?

Telltale's games aren't without their weaknesses. The QTE sequences can get very repetitive, though with each game they do get more complex. I think with every game, the company is trying to experiment more. They know they can't give out the same materials every time, so they have to build-off on what they have.

In truth, if you don't like the Telltale style by now, then don't bother. If you're indifferent about it, but like Batman, then it is worth a go. The story and the interactive gameplay is what matters, so if you really like Batman or have had a lot of fun with previous Telltale titles, then this is for you.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Threat of the Alt-Right

It has been seventy-six years since the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor. The attack crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but soon Japan and the rest of the Axis regretted their decision. The entrance of the United States into the Second World War ensured Allied victory. The losers were Japanese imperialism, Italian fascism, and German Nazism.

Before American entered the war, a Nazi group called the German-American Bund promoted an alignment with Germany. Only German who moved to the United States and Americans of German descent were allowed into the group. Like the Nazis, the German-American Bund promoted the views of anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nationalism socialism. The group faded from any relevancy when Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, following Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of war against Japan.

Although the organization was small (at its height there were only 5,000 to 10,000 people signed as members). Rallies could often include larger numbers. Their largest was in Madison Square Garden in New York City, where 20,000 people were in attendance.

Like the German-American Bund, the modern alt-right endorse Nazism and their strength is thankfully limited in the thousands. Even so, they manage to draw attention to themselves like their predecessors did. The night before their big rally in Charlottesville, alt-right members marched in the University of Virginia with torches. It was reminiscent of the Nazi marches of the 1930s.

Then came the day of the "Unite the Right" rally. The white supremacists were met with thousands of protestors to counter them. Protestors who believed in equal rights. That's when a car driven by one of the racists plowed through a group of the counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many others. Two state troopers died in a helicopter accident responding to the attack.

Two things have led to the rise of alt-right in our society. The first is that the memory of World War II is starting to fade. It will be a sad day when there's no more veterans who fought in the war. We will have our historians and textbooks, but knowing and listening to people with personal connections is always different and makes a greater impression on people. Decades from now, college students can read about the experience of a GI on D-Day, but they wouldn't be able to actually meet them.

The second is that the alt-right feels emboldened with Donald Trump's victory. The president himself is not a Nazi, but no one can doubt that he's had problems with calling out white supremacist groups. Back on the campaign trail in February, he refused to disavow the KKK and racist activist David Duke. He later backtracked and said he had a bad earpiece. His father was arrested following a KKK riot in 1927. The alt-right believes Trump's concerns over immigration and foreign policy means he is speaking to them. He isn't. He has criticized the actions taken by the alt-right member.

The alt-right replied by attacking Trump. Duke attacked Trump by saying it "was white Americans who put you in the presidency." Newsflash to Duke: white Americans make up the majority of the country. Every president was elected with the support of many whites, as well as blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

I think Trump's speech should have been tougher on the alt-right groups, but he has done what would be done. Racism has no place in our country and it is the job of every American to confront it. It is also important to remember that we're not fighting a war. We should never engage in violence of our own, even though their views are horrifying. Everyone has right to say what they want and we have a right to call them out for it.

Paul Ryan's Easy Opponents

Ryan in Janesville - Gannett
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is set to run for another term in the House of Representatives. He has been winning nonstop in Wisconsin's first district since 1998 and that doesn't look like it's going to change. In addition to becoming a giant of national politics, his opponents are bumbling fools.

I'll first address Ryan's Republican primary opponent Paul Nehlen. While I have brought up Nehlen before on this blog, they were only passing references. I was too busy focusing on the presidential election to look into the 2016 GOP primary in the first district. I did, however, believe that it was very likely Ryan was going to win another term. The truth is Nehlen is an embarrassment for Wisconsin Republicans, many of which take pride in the fact that one of their own is the top man in the House of Representatives.

Now that I have time to focus on the race in the first district, I just want Republicans there to know that Nehlen knows little about Wisconsinites and only seems to be in it for himself. According to Jeremy Carpenter of Media Trackers, Nehlen has registered to vote in four different states over the last ten years. He has voted or has been registered in Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the case of my home state, Nehlen voted here in 2008 presidential election and in the 2012 gubernatorial recall election. He came back from Michigan in 2014 and voted in the gubernatorial election. Does this sound like someone who truly understands Wisconsin?

Since his first campaign, Nehlen has established a super PAC called Citizens Revolt. Don't donate to it because it's a total scam. Carpenter looked into the controversy, finding that Nehlen hired Dan Backer, an attorney based in Washington DC. Backer has been infamous for his involvement in many super PACs, many of which have been proven to be scams that only benefit employees running them, not Republican candidates or voters.

After losing in 2016 by a landslide, Nehlen has returned. Though he might win more votes this time from Republican voters who are dissatisfied with Ryan, it's obvious he's going to get pummeled again.

While Ryan will likely win the Republican primary, his main opponent is expected to be Democratic activist and ironworker Randy Bryce. Bryce received national attention for his announcement video, which focused on the impact on his family if the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Yet if Obamacare was so appealing to him, it's worth asking why he'd want a single-payer health care program to replace it.

Bryce is clearly hoping to focus on domestic issues and wants to appeal to blue-collar workers who voted Republican in 2016. His greatest weakness is that he also has to confront foreign policy issues. It is in this area that Bryce is lacking. In an interview with Fox 6 on July 5, he showed major ignorance on a serious threat to global tranquility. First Bryce said, "I don't have information on what North Korea launched." After that, he stated "we're going to take a trip later this month to Washington D.C.to get better educated on the issues, and I hope to have more information then." Candidates should already be informed on the issues before they run.

Sometimes Congress has to vote on a declaration of war. Do we want someone who knows nothing about our enemies voting on legislation to approve conflicts? I don't and neither should anyone else. The North Korean crisis is difficult issue involving crimes against humanity, nuclear weapons, allies like South Korea and Japan, and enemies like Russia and China. We require knowledgeable politicians to handle it. Bryce is clearly not one of them.

Somewhere, Paul Ryan must be smiling.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Republicans Need Legislative Victories

The Republican Party is in their most powerful position since 2004. They have control over both branches of Congress and the presidency. They controlled none of these back in 2008, but they rebuilt their party by making promises to the American people. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was one of those promises.

The health care reform failure shows that these promises may not be fulfilled. The hard work to reverse Obama's signature legislation ended with three Republican senators. They might not get a chance to repeal Obamacare again. If this was their only bill, then there's little chance the Republicans could make gains in Congress (most importantly the Senate). An opinion article for The Guardian helps explain why many conservatives are feeling right now:
Back then, repeal meant, at minimum, doing away with major parts of Obamacare: Medicaid expansion, subsidies, all the new insurance rules and regulations and taxes that the law imposed on health insurance and ordinary Americans.
Of course, it was easy to make such statements in the fall of 2015. Barack Obama was never going to sign a repeal bill, skinny or not. In hindsight, the dozens of repeal votes from Republicans in both chambers seem now to be so much political grandstanding. Moderate Republican senators who voted for full repeal in 2015 hypocritically oppose it now, and conservative senators who opposed skinny repeal in 2015 supported it on Thursday. They are all guilty of the same rank hypocrisy. 

There is a grave danger for Republicans in all of this. If there’s one thing the 2016 presidential election should have taught the GOP establishment, it’s that Americans are disgusted with politics as usual – the showboating, the sloganeering, the canned talking points and the pervasive, poisonous insincerity of it all.
Failing to repeal and replace Obamacare means that tax reform is even more critical. The GOP has to run on something in 2018. The Republican Party is the supply-side party of the United States. Every Republican in Congress supports reducing the tax burden. The big question is how.

A tax cut for the American people might seem easy, but that's until you get into the details. Let's the corporate tax cut is going to decrease the rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. There could be a divide between more moderate Republicans who want something like 30 percent and more conservative Republican who'd prefer around 10 percent. Then there's the many deductions and special tax credits. Will different Republican want to change different portions of the tax code while defending others?

In the White House, Steve Bannon (ever the populist), has been calling for a top income tax rate of 44 percent while cutting taxes for poorer Americans. This might seem like a good idea, but it's better to reduce taxes for everyone. There's no way a majority of Republicans would support his proposal.

One thing is clear: no matter the divisions, Republicans have to come together and finally pass a flagship item of legislation this year. That means President Trump has to get involved and push harder than he did for health care.