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. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars: Battlefront II and the Art of Disaster

I was optimistic from what I saw, read, and heard about Star Wars: Battlefront II. It looked like EA really learned from its mistakes with the first edition and this one was going to blow everybody away with how impressive it was. The game was going to have a campaign and no season pass system. It was going to be a triumph in the gaming industry.

Wow, did they screw up.

Before we get into the infamous micro-transaction system that has the gaming community up in arms, I want to address the campaign first. It's really hard for me to not explain the problems with the plot without spoiling some things. EA and DICE promised players a plot involving the Empire (as clearly shown in the trailer). Back when I played the original Battlefront II, I loved the campaign following the adventures of the elite 501st Legion in the Clone Wars from the prequels and the Galactic Civil War in the original trilogy.

Yes, the game does give you a campaign from the perspective of the Empire...for the first two or three missions. Now I'm not completely against the kind of plot EA gave the players with the game, but the way they did it is the problem. Gamers play Commander Iden Veriso, the leader of a special forces unit called Inferno Squad. She follows the orders of her father Admiral Garrick Veriso during and after the Battle of Endor and the destruction of the second Death Star.

Early in the plot, Versio changes sides once she realizes that the Empire intends to destroy the climate of her home world Vardos. This creates a split between the members of Inferno Squad. She pleads with her father to stop the destruction of Vardos, but he refuses because he is a man who is dedicated to the Empire. The rest of the game has Versio joining the Rebel Alliance and now fighting the Empire.

What's frustrating about the plot is her sudden switch to the Rebels. It is an overwhelming disappointment because the fan base wanted an Imperial plot. Another problem is that her decision to challenge allegiances does not make sense. How is it that Versio has never seen some of the crimes against humanity that the Empire has committed for years? A casual observer would think that Versio would've known and possibly participated in some of the Empire's notorious ways to subjugating a population. I get that this time it is her own home that is about to suffer and she is having a moment of disbelief, but this could've been done better if the campaign had been longer and she had moments where she questioned her loyalty of the Empire as it continued on.

It would've been better if the attack on Vardos happened later, more towards the climax of the game allowing for a confrontation between her and her father. Perhaps they could've ended the game with some kind of choice like in Mafia III. There's a DLC with the game that includes events during the current trilogy. Maybe EA could've made two versions with one for the First Order and other for the Resistance. Do you choose to stay with the Empire, go to the Rebellion, or maybe take some neutral option where you abandon the war altogether?

There wouldn't have been anything wrong with an entirely different plot in the game where Versio remains loyal to the Empire even in the face of an impossible situation where she has no way of turning the war around. She could've gone out in a blaze of glory during an epic last stand with the rest of Inferno Squad and her father (at last stand like Red Dead Redemption).

That's not what we got. Instead, we got a plot that's terrible at worst and okay at best.

The multiplayer's problems are known by everyone and easy to explain. Basically, EA decided to abandon a season pass with multiple DLCs in favor of micro-transactions. These are what you usually see in mobile games. While you can earn credits through playing the game to buy uniforms and perks for your character in multiplayer, this is often takes a very long time. Despite the game being entertaining to play with plenty of fun maps, this pay-to-win system holds it back. Lastly, the game does have excellent graphics, but that's nothing new for games created by DICE.

It's clear EA was not prepared for the immediate consumer backlash. As of today, here's where Battlefront II stands on Metacritic:

As of December 22, 2017 on Metacritic
Wall Street and Disney are furious with the game. In the case of the former, it was that EA withdrew on micro-transactions by temporarily turning them off. Investors will not get the returns on their investment. Price target and profit forecasts are down for the company. The latter was angry for the opposite reason. The owners of the Star Wars franchise informed EA that the bad reviews of the game could impact the release of The Last Jedi (which from what I heard has divided fans). This game is a catastrophe for EA and there is no real way for them to regenerate the profit margins that anticipated. At the top of the month, the game only has 882,000 sales in the United States. This comes at a time when Call of Duty has provided strong competition and has sold 4.4 million games domestically. It's a lesson for the company that I think they'll never forget.

Gaming companies are now in a difficult position following Battlefront II. The season pass system is unpopular, but EA's attempt to fix it was worse. In the years to come they are going to have to wrestle with how they want to exactly present their content while profiting healthily. A good place to start is to not hide how they plan to make money until the last moment like with EA's micro-transactions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Robert Mugabe and the Crushing of Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe - Reuters
In my opinion, development in African countries and reconciliation between blacks and whites can be generalized into two models. One is held by Nelson Mandela and the other is held by Robert Mugabe. Mandela's legacy is one of greatness, openness, and tranquility. Mugabe's legacy is one of horror, close-mindedness, and division. With the toppling of his dictatorship in Zimbabwe, I thought it would be a good idea to post about what led to the military's coup last month.

Mugabe, like Mandela, deserves credit for freeing millions of Africans who were oppressed by a white-only government in the twentieth century. In the 1960s, pressure was placed on the self-governing British colony of Rhodesia to end minority rule. This was met with fierce resistance by Ian Smith, a Rhodesian politician and Royal Air Force veteran who served in World War II. He founded the Rhodesian Front in March 1962 and led the country to independence on November 11, 1965. It left the Commonwealth in 1970.

For about fifteen years, Smith led the Republic of Rhodesia in the face of international backlash over maintaining oppressive minority rule. His country was notorious for being doggedly stubborn about enacting majority rule and giving Africans political and civil rights. Sanctions championed by Britain and the United Nations made matters worse.

Mugabe, among others, led African revolutionary forces in the Rhodesian Bush War with the support other African liberation movements in Mozambique and Zambia. Smith was backed by the Apartheid government in South Africa and white supremacist groups across the world. Eventually, the combination of economic strife and war fatigue was too much for Rhodesia. Smith gave in to the demands of majority rule and he resolved the Rhodesian Parliament for the last time on February 28, 1979.

A free and fair election in April 1979 gave Africans overwhelming representation in the new House of Assembly and sanctions were lifted soon afterward. Robert Mugabe's rise came in the next election just a year later. His Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) received 57 of the 100 seats. His two main rivals were the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo with 20 seats and Smith's Rhodesian Front (later Republican Front) with another 20 seats.

At this stage, Mugabe could have become a great leader if he had taken the same route Mandela did over a decade later. Unfortunately, this is where Zimbabwe plunged into the abyss of underdevelopment. While there were accounts of voter intimidation in the 1980 parliamentary election, Mugabe became blunt with his oppression two years later when he accused Nkomo and ZAPU of planning a coup. A year later, he sent the troops into areas where ZAPU was politically strongest. This was the beginning of the Gukurahundi massacres against Ndebele civilians. It is estimated that 20,000 people were executed by Mugabe's men.

This left Smith, who could never stick with one name for his "white tribe" political party. He renamed it the Conservative Alliance, but its political representation was collapsing because of the departure of thousands of whites. Smith stayed in Zimbabwe, but many whites were eventually forced out by Mugabe in 2000 when he decided to redistribute farms to blacks (a nice chunk went to his political allies). Banishing the white farmers stifled international investments.

Early on, Mugabe did not implement Marxist policies, but this began to change as he cemented his power. At the time of the redistribution, the whites still held most of the wealth and had very productive farms. Many of the black farmers who took control lacked the experience needed to reach the same levels of agriculture productivity, as the chart below from The Financial Times shows.

Mugabe was a lavish spender. Under his leadership, government spending increased from 32.5 percent of GDP in 1979 to over 44 percent in 1989. Bloated government led to more debt. He also made it virtually impossible to fire workers. This hurt private businesses because they could not get rid of bad employees or layoff people when times got tough. Even with this policy, unemployment is very high.

The most infamous example of Zimbabwe's failure of economic development comes from the money. Mugabe ordered the central bank to print money at a faster rate in order to pay off debts and pensions for war veterans. This only made things worse because it devalued the currency astronomically. By 2008, inflation was at 231 percent. In 2016, the government issued "bond notes" to try to restore wealth for the people. This has also been met with poor results. The money supply rose by 36 percent last year. The value of the notes has decreased by 80 percent. What keeps Zimbabweans alive today is the black market.

Mugabe's departure is a great day for the people of Zimbabwe. Thousands have celebrated in the streets of Harare and across the country. Now let's hope they move towards democracy and capitalism. Let's also hope the people in Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries where leaders and regimes are inspired by Karl Marx will soon be free as well.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Call of Duty: WWII Review

Back in the spring, I made a blog post about Call of Duty: WWII and that I thought going back to a video game with a historical setting was a good idea for the company. Last year, I brought up the contrast in popularity between the rollouts of their science fiction game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and EA's First World War game Battlefield: One.

Call of Duty: WWII is the first game I have bought in the franchise since Advanced Warfare. I was excited for the game and the first half of it did not disappoint. As I expected, the game began with the epic landing on Omaha Beach during D-Day. I had a lot of fun storming through the beach, up the fortifications, and into the bunkers.

As the game dragged on, I started to get tired of some of the missions while still remaining excited during others. A mission in which you play a member of the French Resistance infiltrating the German headquarters in Paris was lot of fun. I also enjoyed the Battle of the Bulge. I did not like a mission involving a jeep chase with a train, which I thought was highly unrealistic.

In the game's campaign you play Ronald "Red" Daniels, a private who is part of a squad in the First Infantry Division. The game clearly emphasizes the brotherhood of the squad. The player is suppose to care for the other soldiers, most notably Daniels' best friend Robert Zussman. While the friendship between Daniels and Zussman provides a strong plotline, the other characters come off as weaker and less significant. The tension between the player's two superior officers is interesting, but the rest are more forgettable. Frank Aiello, another private, holds religious and racial prejudices that were typical of many people at the time. The only thing memorable about Drew Stiles, another private, is that he has glasses and a camera.

Overall, I consider the plot to be above average. It is strong in many areas, but there sections of it that are drastically weaker. It is a lot better than the plots in recent in Call of Duty entries. Infinite Warfare was basically World War II in space, pitching an alliance of democratic groups against fascists. Advanced Warfare involved the ridiculous concept of a private multinational corporation trying to takeover the world. The only part of the plot that was redeemable was (now disgraced) Kevin Spacey's character Jonathan Irons. Ghosts had an absurd plot where South America suddenly becomes a powerful, oil-rich union of nations and invades the United States.

As for the other aspect of the game, I enjoy the multiplayer and will be playing the game for years to come. I like most of the maps, with the exception of Gustav Cannon (a map that includes the towering German railroad gun of the same name), which is super easy or super hard depending on who holds the high ground in the center. Most are entertaining and provide the standard makeup of a Call of Duty map.

Overall, I like Call of Duty: WWII a lot and I think this is exactly what Activision needs. No, it probably won't be as successful and revered as greatly as the early Modern Warfare games and many of the original World War II games, but it's a good addition to the series that I think most gamers will like playing it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ending Net Neutrality should be Celebrated

Ajit Pai - Nicholas Komm/Getty Images
Two days ago, the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality. Across social media, liberals exploded with anger. They claimed ending net neutrality (which basically means going back to the way the internet was governed pre-2015) was going to be a disaster for consumers and radically alter use of the world wide web. It was made out to be one of the worst repeals possible, but here we are a few days later and everything seems fine. In fact, net neutrality is one of the most least pressing issues of modern times.

To recap, net neutrality was approved by the FCC under the Obama administration two years ago. It was a regulatory takeover of the internet over something that was never a real problem. The primary reason for its existence was to mandate that internet service providers provide access to all content without discriminating against certain websites and content. Some of the largest corporations in the world lobbied for its implementation. Interestingly enough, while net neutrality was suppose to protect the free flow of information, proponents of it like Google are notorious for censoring videos from conservative channels.

Across social media, liberal politicians are trying to stir up the population into fear over the possibility of a system in which consumers will have to pay to gain access to specific content. The biggest hole in this argument is that consumers have never experienced anything of the sort before net neutrality was placed into law.

No Internet Service Providers engaged in this kind of behavior in the decades leading up to net neutrality. The Obama administration didn't conduct or collect any research before pushing the new policy through the FCC. In fact, the rollout of net neutrality has left some major gaps in its intentions.

When it comes to the First Amendment, net neutrality (or more formally the Open Internet Order) was suppose to simplify any objections by differentiating between "editorial intervention" and ISPs that act as a conduit for speech. Yet an incentive for ISPs to curate the internet was created because some that are religiously affiliated do engage in editorial intervention. A massive loophole was created with a court ruling this year that allows ISPs to exempt themselves of net neutrality when they offer "'edited' services." Even some of the biggest supporters of net neutrality were starting to realize the policy's mistakes.

With the net neutrality debate coming to an end, I found no objection to its repeal more laughable than a chart that was posted by Representative Ro Khanna of California. The chart is clearly meant to scare consumers into thinking that there will no longer be a bundled internet service. Instead, internet service would be chopped into paying for specific features. However, for many consumers this would actually be a good thing. Some consumers who don't care much for social media and gaming would not have to pay for it. They would save plenty of money.

Here's what to expect with repeal, right from commission director Ajit Pai:
Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades. Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate. 
Far too many millennials know little about net neutrality in the first place. Through personal experience and from reading polling data, I've learned that many people in my generation have the political memories of goldfish. By this time next year, many will forget what it even was in the first place or how it helped them with internet usage.