Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Meanwhile, in Europe

In the early twentieth century it was typical, especially of the British, to refer to the Balkans as the "black hole of Europe" because war was common in that region. Tension in the Balkans between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia would ultimately lead to the First World War. Today, it looks like the black hole has returned, but now it is larger and looms over Europe entirely (save maybe the British). The European Union continues to deal with numerous problems that threaten its existence.

Brexit is just one of many issues that concerns Europe. Many of the politicians and academics who favored continued membership in the European Union raised alarms over an oncoming recession that would savage Britain. In the short-term no recession has arrived yet. Some people are surprised that nothing has happened yet. There has been no European wrath. No recession has swamped the British Isles. The people have kept calm and carried on. Queen Elizabeth II still remains in power. The Pound Sterling is still weaker than the U.S. Dollar, but that hasn't been cataclysmic. In fact, many foreigners are enjoying an opportunity to vacation in the UK since their own currencies are now stronger. Airline reservations are increasing and more goods are being purchased by those lovely tourists. The markets are now adjusting. No one is going to cut off the British from trade.

Even so, it's not like problems couldn't mount (according to the Pro-EU people). Columnist Will Hutton continues to be concerned because it is natural for economic woes to be just around the corner. He argues that economies are slow to respond to a crisis, so the recession will happen at some point in the near future. He points out that many respected financial instituions have lowered British economic outlook and that the interconnectedness of Britain and the EU will cause a problem at some point once it becomes clear that Brexit is going into effect.

So far, I'm a fan of Prime Minister Theresa May. There was supposed to be a massive civil war within the Conservative Party over who would become the next prime minister once David Cameron resigned. Instead, the process was surprisingly quick and Cameron decided to retire once May was the only candidate. Originally, he (and many others) expected months of debates over many candidates. Those who are worried that Brexit won't happen shouldn't be concerned just yet. May did appoint Boris Johnson as her foreign secretary (the equivalent role of the U.S. secretary of state). She just gave out the "marching orders" and she is having her cabinet organize strategies for EU departure.

While May enjoys rising poll numbers, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party look like a bunch of lunatics. Corbyn's socialist movement, like the one in America led by Sanders, doesn't seem to be getting anywhere because their man at the head lacks intelligence. Corbyn is even more hilarious than Sanders. You couldn't write a book with his antics. The "man of the people" tried to appeal to voters by sitting on the floor of an overcrowded train. The only problem was that the train wasn't crowded as seen through the security cameras. Corbyn got right back up and sat in a car with a handful of people. It has been claimed that he didn't reserve his seats, but then why were tickets still being sold? Corbyn faces a leadership challenge later this year. He might survive, but the challenge shows a clear lack of loyalty in his party and a lack of decisiveness in his time as leader of the opposition.

The European Union is rightfully worried that the British government is going ahead with Brexit. Some of the EU's politicians sound so elitist. Martin Schultz, the leader of European Parliament, reacted to Brexit by saying, "It is not the EU philosophy that the crowd can decide its fate." How democratic of him, right? Harvard economics professor Kenneth Rogoff lashed out that a referendum asking the people how to determine their future wasn't democratic, but a "Russian roulette" of politics. He then paralleled the referendum with ancient history to prove that intellectuals and their institutions have always warned about giving the people too much power. He clearly seems himself was one of those intellectuals who knows better than the peasants.

Other countries in the European Union have disliked the way the EU's leaders have responded. Many of the leaders of nations in eastern Europe sound more sympathetic to the British than to Brussels. Even larger nations located in the central and western Europe are sounding bitter towards the EU. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy wants more deregulation and an injection of funds into his nation's banks, which are weakening under current economic pressure. Other politicians in France and Germany are calling for a reduction in the power of the European Union. The Eurosceptic politicians continue to become more formidable and many want more referendums so that their own countries can leave. All of this indicates that there is a wedge between the politicians elected in the European Union and the politicians in countries stretching from Poland to France.

Then there's Spain. Poor Spain was once the world's superpower centuries ago. Their power receded from bad economic policy. They suffered through two civil wars during the Napoleonic Age and the Great Depression. Now it doesn't even have a real government. In January, I published a post about Spain's general election and the need to continue stability under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the center-right People's Party. The only problem was that the PP did not attain a majority. Adding to the confusion, none of the other parties seemed interested in building a coalition government that could rule Spain. Rajoy decided to hold another general election on June 26. The left-wing antiestablishment Podemos formed an alliance with the United Left hoping that combining two parties would win the election. Instead, Rajoy's PP won an additional fourteen seats (bringing their total to 137). No other party won seats, but there's still deadlock over a coalition government. Rajoy remains in power as the prime minister, but it is highly difficult to implement any policies when the legislature is deeply divided.

It is too early to say that the European Union will break apart, but there are so many stresses. The refugee crisis continues, ISIS has been successful in infiltrating the refugee camps, there are fears that European culture is fading and multiculturalism is on the rise, economic turmoil remains across the continent. Europe has quite a history. There have been times when the continent has had to deal with numerous crises all at once. In the Middle Ages, Europeans had to fight off different kinds of barbarians, suffer from Bubonic Plague, and harvest enough crops to support the population. There is one major difference between the past and the present: Europe could survive, but the European Union is a different story. If the EU proves itself as more problematic than beneficial in the next several years, then there isn't any reason for other nations to stay in it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Batman - The Telltale Series Review

Telltale Games/pressakey
I'm a fan of games that involve choices. What interests me most about these games is that they are more interactive than others. Some people might not like such a game, but I do enjoy creating my own type of character through dialogue with others and making key decision that effect the plot. Telltale Games, a developer that does focus on interactive gaming, has made a new game called Batman - The Telltale Series. So far I am enjoying it. Like other Telltale games, it will operate like a television series. There are five episodes in this series that usually come out monthly.

One of my favorite parts of this game is that it isn't just about Batman, but also Bruce Wayne. They are the same character with the same goals, but there are differences between playing a crime fighter at night and a billionaire during the day. The game seems to take place fairly early in the Batman storyline. Wayne wants to create a legend criminals will fear and is starting to meet some of the famous villains from DC Comics (as you can see from the title Catwoman is in the first episode). When playing Wayne, you have to deal with the upcoming mayoral election and battling corruption. Dirty politics has poisoned Gotham and you are a target of the infamous Mayor Hill for being one of his detractors. How you conduct yourself during the investigation and with the press will decide how the public views Wayne and the candidate he backs (Harvey Dent).

As Batman, you have to deal with a variety of different criminals with different agendas, but it is crucial to decide what Batman you plan to be. This is based off how brutally justice will be served. It's not just a matter of dragging the city's scum before a courtroom, but in what way you plan to do that. How will the people and police department of Gotham react when they see how you treat criminals? Will Batman be a good cop or a bad cop?

The game is not without faults. People might not like the graphics, but the game is based off the comics, so Telltale made a point of ensuring that the game looked similar to comic books like they did with Telltale's The Walking Dead. It isn't supposed to be Until Dawn or Heavy Rain. I did notice that there are some technical issues with the game that need to be resolved. I do think the company needs to take more time to listen to the needs of their consumers. They need a smooth support service. Aside from that, the game still provides strong storytelling. If you love Batman, then you will love this game.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Great GOP Civil War

I've been very busy the last few weeks, but that didn't stop me from taking time to watch the 2016 election. With the end of August approaching, I thought it would be fitting to review what has happened this month. I believe that August, more than any other month of this year, has shown how divided Abraham Lincoln's political party has become.

Assuming she wins the presidency (that's more than likely right now), Hillary Clinton will probably be considered one of the luckiest politicians in history. At the start of this election cycle, I don't think there could have been someone more despicable and corrupt who would be running for president. Everything she says is revealed to be untrue. Julian Assage of WikiLeaks has basically declared war on her. His organization is releasing loads of documents proving her lack of competence. If this were an ordinary election, then we would see her trailing in the polls right now. The only problem is that this isn't a typical election because a faction of angry voters within the Republican Party have managed to dominate with Donald Trump.

Trump is now the Republican nominee, but he's basically thrown bombs at his own campaign. His candidacy for president has committed suicide more times than Japanese soldiers in World War II. The current RealClearPolitics average has her with 47.7 percent against Trump's 41.7 percent. That's a margin of 6 percent and it's one of her strongest showings since both candidates became presumptive nominees. Obviously it's only August, so there is plenty of time for the polling to change. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report has a post on why the race could shift again. She notes that the variables of the 2016 election are quite different from the past. Both Trump and Clinton are heavily disliked and news reports continue to present international disaster that require new U.S. leadership. There are also the debates to consider, but Trump needs to play his cards right.

Trump defied political reality in the campaign for the Republican nomination, but conventional politics still seems to be holding for the general election. There are several reasons Trump's candidacy is failing. First off, a Gallup poll shows that most voters enjoyed the Democratic convention more than they liked the GOP convention. This does not surprise me. If we look at the two convention speeches, Clinton's appeared more positive (and a little too ordinary for my taste). She did what a typical politician would do, but Trump's speech was a basic list of what the problems were and what he wanted to do. It did not provide a new vision for the country.

Trump did have a bounce after the convention, but Clinton's was bigger. Her lead continued when Trump made yet another mistake. His decision to attack the Khan couple and their late son (a Muslim who lost his life fighting for the United States in the Middle East) looked very low. Even Trump's allies, like Newt Gingrich, called his recent statements unacceptable. This kept his poll numbers very low as he struggled to stay on message. If it was me (or anyone with common sense) who was asked a question about the Khan family, I simply would've thanked them for their son's service and said that the election is about formulating the best national security. Instead, Trump decided to attack the Khan family (specifically the wife for being quiet) in one of most worst attempts I've seen to the dodge a question. This has allowed the predominantly liberal press to attack Trump viciously. This is Trump's fault. He needs to be prepared for things like this.

Trump didn't stop with attacking the Khan family. He has continued to anger many Republicans with his rhetoric against fellow members of the party. During the primary campaign in Wisconsin's first congressional district, Trump decided to praise the goof Paul Nehlen rather than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. That achieved nothing and eventually Trump was backed into a corner and had no choice but to endorse the incumbent (personally I think he did so reluctantly and has little respect for Ryan). Ryan has defeated Nehlen by a landslide, but Republican division continues. Most of the activists, strategists, and websites that backed Nehlen have moved on to attack other Republicans they dislike. In fact, many Nehlen volunteers came from out of the state (as did their candidate). There are still several Republicans who oppose Trump. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who ran as the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate in California, has criticized Trump and donated to Clinton. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said that she is not ready to endorse the GOP nominee.

Trump's campaign continues to sink into the abyss. His first campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski, was fired in June. The following manager, the more conventional Paul Manafort didn't even last a month as he attempted to right the ship. He resigned from his position after finding his influence put in check. Trump has now hired Steven Bannon of Breitbart News. Bannon is unconventional, but entertainment attorney and political activist Miles Mogulescu posted in the The Huffington Post that he should not be underestimated. Bannon's experience in media and film could help the Trump campaign unleash some very powerful ads. At the same time, Bannon does carry baggage of domestic violence and voter fraud.

Bannon has the opportunity to save the campaign that Lewandowski and Manafort could not, but the buck clearly stops with Trump and his family. With the months ticking by, I believe Trump has time to change the dynamics of the 2016 presidential election, but it will require a lot of work. I recently attended a town hall in Milwaukee hosted by Sean Hannity of Fox News, one of Trump's biggest supporters. He said something that I think most Republicans agree on: target Clinton and Barack Obama. Trump needs to stop wasting his time with others, especially challenging fellow Republicans. Hannity himself seems to be panicking and believes that Republican politicians will be at fault for not backing the Donald if the Republican ticket loses. He has it wrong. It is the responsibility of Trump to bring his party together, not the other way around. Additionally, he needs to articulate that positive vision I haven't seen yet. If he does all of this, then there is a chance that he could come out ahead. Right now, Clinton is performing better in a highly negative presidential election.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Principled Paul Ryan

The presidential election of 2016 has put Paul Ryan in a very important position. As the new speaker of the House of Representatives, it is his job to layout a Republican agenda that offers solutions to today's problems. So far, I've been very pleased with him and I love his blueprints for America's top issues. I think Ryan's conservative principles, more than anything else, will carry him to victory against challenger Paul Nehlen in the upcoming GOP primary for Wisconsin's first district.

Ryan is a man who cares deeply about his family, but he also cares about Wisconsin and the country's future. That's why it was difficult for him to become the leader in the House of Representatives. It meant that he would have to spend less time with his children, but Ryan was able to make a deal with fellow Republicans and decided to take the job after being urged to do so by many of his peers.

Ryan's vision for the United States is simply called A Better Way, which is something that I think most Americans are looking for. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are slinging mud, the speaker is spending his election time campaigning on a more positive note in order to continue the GOP majority in Congress. His first policy proposal regarded poverty. The War on Poverty, initiated by Lyndon Johnson and many Democrats in the 1960s, has been unable to solve the problem with large welfare programs. Ryan's plan is more fiscally conservative. It includes adding work requirements for those who receive welfare, consolidating several programs, reducing regulations on technical education programs, and giving businesses more freedom when it comes to establishing retirement strategies for employees.

Ryan has also put forward a policy proposal when it comes to dealing with national security. It involves constructive, coherent strategy that will obtain the ultimate objective of defeating our enemies like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The plan provides more resources for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to combat our rivals abroad. Additionally, it offers a plan to provide America's hardworking veterans with the care they deserve for the defending the country. These policy recommendations are staunchly different from the current policies initiated by the Obama administration.

For taxes, Ryan and the House Republicans have offered dramatic pro-growth reforms. The current complex income tax system of seven brackets would be reduced to three with the rates being 12 percent, 25 percent, and 33 percent (the current top rate is 39.6 percent). The corporate tax rate would be slashed from 35% to 20%. The estate tax would be repealed and the capital gains tax will be cut through other reforms, including the creation of a 50 percent deduction on a taxpayer's bracket. Tax credits will also be simplified. The plan has been praised by Americans for Tax Reform, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Small Business & Entreprenurship Council.

The three plans listed above are just some of the numerous proposals made by Ryan, which you can find on the Better Way website. The Better Way proves that Ryan is a huge asset to the conservative movement. He is a beacon of light in the current dark atmosphere. To be honest, I'm not worried about the Tuesday primary. The latest poll indicates that the speaker has a wonderful 80 percent of support to Nehlen's puny 14 percent. Nehlen is a laughingstock of a political candidate, who has decided that racism and bigotry will win the primary. His outspokenness about banning Muslims violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is a last desperate attempt because he knows his fifteen minutes of fame will be over on August 9. Ryan's victory will be cheered by Republicans across the country. It will also tell many voters that Donald Trump doesn't represent the party. Instead, the hundreds of legislators and state executives who fight everyday for the country do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Case for Ron Johnson

The presidency isn't the only position in jeopardy in 2016. There are several elections that will decide control of the U.S. Senate this year. Wisconsin's Senate race is shaping up to be a tough one for incumbent Republican Ron Johnson. His opponent is Democrat Russ Feingold, the former senator who Johnson defeated in the Tea Party wave of 2010. There is a clear contrast between Johnson and Feingold that many voters need to understand.

During his time as a senator (from 1993 to 2011), Feingold became one of the most prominent liberals in Congress. He won his third term in 2004, defeating businessman and army veteran Tim Michels comfortably. One of the issues that Feingold prioritized during his time in the Senate was campaign finance reform. One of his more famous bills was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often called the McCain-Feingold Act because of the chief sponsors). Feingold, typical of most liberals, endorsed large spending programs to stimulate the economy and tax hikes to help pay for them. He voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was the signature portion of President Barack Obama's economic program.

The stimulus plan did not provide a robust recovery. The anger among conservatives sparked the rise of the Tea Party movement. With the wind at their backs, the GOP was shaping up to have a good year in 2010. Ron Johnson, a businessman who served as the chief executive officer of PACUR, LLC (an Oshkosh manufacturer that makes plastic and polyester), easily won the Republican primary. The contrast between conservative Johnson and liberal Feingold was clear. In the 2010, the voters decided it was time for a change and the Oshkosh businessman became Wisconsin's next senator. This was thanks to an energized conservative base that pushed their message. Johnson's regional appeal in the northeast of the Badger State helped carry him to victory. Many counties in that part of Wisconsin (including Brown, Outagamie, Winnebago, and Door) switched from blue to red in the election.

Johnson has gained distinction as a true conservative while serving in the Senate. He has become popular nationally for his tough question during Hillary Clinton's hearing on the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that led to the death of an American ambassador (she responded: "What difference does it make?"). His work has ultimately led him to become the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Senator Johnson is a strong fiscal conservative. When the federal government made $136.7 billion in improper payments, Johnson made it clear he would not stand for continuous problems within the bureaucracy. He has become an influential voice within the Republican Party and helped with having the GOP platform adopt language that gives terminally-ill patients the rise to experimental drugs. His conservatism hasn't stopped him for being someone who can work across the aisle. Recently, Johnson introduced a bill that would increase the efficiency of benefit claims made by veterans and it has received bipartisan support. With regard to the Zika virus, Johnson has been gathering information in his committee in order to learn how to protect American communities.

While Johnson has spent the last five-and-a-half years working for the people of Wisconsin and the United States, Feingold has conducted a political 180. The man who campaign finance reform to heart and has repeatedly denounced "dark money" has been involved with it himself! This has led Feingold to flip-flop on a key issue during the election. Six organizations have spent over $2 million to defeat Johnson so far. The former senator has gathered quite a war chest thanks to wealthy donors in California and New York. Additionally, Feingold held a rally with the one of these organizations (the League of Conservation Voters) that he once used to criticize. If we cannot trust him on what was though to be one of his most passionate topics, then how can we trust him at all? Worse, Feingold hasn't learned his lesson when it comes to economic policy.

Feingold is worse when it comes to foreign policy. He claims that he will be aggressive towards ISIS, but while he talks a tough game his record shows a clear lack of credibility when it comes to national security. An example of which would be the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which Feingold opposed during his time in the Senate. He also voted against the National Defense Authorization Act precisely eleven times during his tenure. Having Feingold as a senator would be counterproductive when it comes to crafting a powerful foreign policy.

Johnson has always provided thoughtful solutions to many problems that exist today and takes plenty of time to listen to Wisconsinites. When it comes to dealing with the many issues our country suffers from, Johnson's policy proposals are necessary to solve them. Feingold's agenda would exacerbate the problems that are already going on. This is known by many voters because of his defeat in 2010, but the electorate is different in presidential election years. The election will be tough due to a higher turnout of Democratic voters, so conservatives need to reach out to as many independents as possible. Since Feingold will not bring prosperity or security, Johnson is the natural choice and he has earned a second term.