Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Conor Lamb leads Republican Rick Saccone by 0.3 percentage points or 579 votes in a Pennsylvania congressional District Donald Trump won by 20 points and where the Democrats did not even bother fielding a candidate in the last two elections.  Absentee votes remained to be counted, but most commentators do not believe Saccone has enough votes to make up the difference.  Absent a major tabulation error, Conor Lamb has won.  With Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered districts being redrawn, both candidates will run in other districts in November.

Lamb appears to have been an unusually charismatic candidate, but this was a race that should not even have been close.  Rick Saccone had the standard Republican resume that wins these heavily gerrymandered districts easily.  The Republican Party invested 10 million dollars in this race.  Donald Trump visited the district twice.  The Republicans tried playing the Nancy Pelosi bogeywoman and touting their tax cut scam, but both strategies fell flat.  Trump’s recent tariffs should have resonated with steelworkers in this district but did not.  A desperate Saccone was reduced to pathetically alleging his opponents hated Trump, America and even God.

Even had Saccone won, the 20 point swing should have set alarm bells ringing.  It now appears that the Democrats may have finally won a heavily Republican congressional seat. The difference appears to have been voter enthusiasm, the Democrats had more of it and it made a difference.

Do not look for Donald Trump to engage in any introspection.  Behind closed doors, Trump evidently has already cast the blame on Saccone.  However, there are more than a 100 Republican held congressional seats that Trump won with a smaller margin than PA-18 (including the seat held by Paul Ryan).  Tonight many of those incumbents have cause to be nervous and in November Pennsylvania will not have a Congressional map rigged in favor of Republicans.  The Democrats will obviously not win all of those seats.  However, they need only 24 to win back the house.

Tonight that target seems even more attainable.

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Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The President of the United States quoted today:

“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”

It could be a sign that an administration which goes out of its way to avoid criticizing Russia and just fired a Secretary of State who had the temerity to do so will not be constrained by facts in it its actions. After all they can always make up alternative facts.

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Posted on 13-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

It was a departure long expected, but the timing still took everyone by surprise.  Donald Trump finally canned his feckless Secretary of State.  In vintage cowardly Donald Trump fashion he could not do it face to face.  Rex Tillerson evidently found out about his departure on Twitter.  In the chaos that defines the Trump administration, they could not even get their story about the timing right.  A Tillerson aide who contradicted the story that he had been told about this on Friday also got the boot.

This of course is a boon for conspiracy theorists.  Just yesterday this blog noted that the administration seemed unwilling to criticize Tsar Vlad.  Tillerson deviated from the script by openly blaming the Russians, and a few hours later he was gone.

This ends the tenure of one of the worst Secretaries of State in living memory, if not American history.  Tillerson clearly did not have influence with Donald Trump leading to other countries ignoring him.  On his watch 60% of the State Department’s top ranking career diplomats resigned and new applications fell by half.  Key positions remained unfilled.  Treating the state department like the corporate bean counter he was his budget cuts slashed morale, staff and eviscerated American soft power.  He will not be missed.

And yet the remedy may be worse than the cure.  He is replaced by Trump sycophant, CIA director and foreign policy hawk Mike Pompeo.  Mike Pompeo will be replaced at the CIA with a career agent tainted by torture.  Increasingly the few people willing to stand up to Donald Trump’s worst impulses are being replaced by people who will encourage them.  Secretary of State Mattis remains one of the few checks on precipitate action, something that The Onion (which is on fire today) noted in its own fashion.

Look for a lot more hawkish stupidity in this administration’s actions against Iran, Syria and North Korea.

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Posted on 12-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

One has to wonder what Putin has on Trump.  Trump generally is fond of dictators, but he has never whispered any criticism of Tsar Vlad.  He has even made excuses for Putin killing troublesome journalists.  The administration has refused to enforce sanctions that overwhelmingly passed Congress or to spend funds appropriated to combat Russian meddling in our political processes.

So it should come as no surprise that the administration will not directly criticize the Tsar for the latest outrage.  Last week, a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked in the United Kingdom with a nerve agent.  This brought back memories of the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Today the British Prime Minister openly accused the Russians of orchestrating the attack and gave them 48 hours to make the case that the attack was not a state sponsored plot.

Unsurprisingly, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged questions about Moscow’s involvement in the attack and treated us to generic pablum about standing with America’s closest ally.

If the United Kingdom does take action (and as a common investment destination for Russian oligarchs, it has some leverage), it will likely have to do so alone.  The administration of the Muscovite Candidate will not take on Tsar Vlad.

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Posted on 09-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted in the previous post Trump shocked the world by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un.  Less then 24 hours later, the usual walkbacks have started.  Misstating the North Korean promise for talks regarding denuclearization the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that North Korea has agreed to denuclearize and progress on this would be needed before the summit takes place.

It appears that in an attempt to shut down criticism of Trump meeting Kim Jong Un unconditionally, the White House has added a poison pill to the whole mess.  Denuclearization as a precondition to talks is preposterous.  Outside the loony tunes world of Trumplandia, nobody expects North Korea to do this.  Trump’s “Nixon goes to China” moment could be over before it started and the incoherence of this administration is on display once again.

 

 

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Posted on 09-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

In his typical seat of the pants way of managing things, Donald Trump surprised the world by announcing (actually having the South Koreans announce) an impending summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in May.  Taken by surprise were the Pentagon and the State Department.  Just a few hours before the feckless Secretary of State had been announcing that talks were not on the horizon.

Given that the administration’s incoherent policy to date included Mike Pence glaring at North Korea, making a fool of himself at the Winter Olympics and making silly demands like requiring the abandonment of the North Korean nuclear weapons program as a pre-condition of talks, it is not surprising that talks were not going anywhere.  The stage was set for Kim Jong Un to make his offer of an in person meeting and Donald Trump’s ego promptly bit at the bait.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a President meeting a rival face to face.  Under a competent administration it is possible that there could be some progress made towards reducing North Korean paranoia and reckless behavior.  Unfortunately there are a lot of perils with THIS president meeting Kim Jong Un.  Lazy, uninformed, uninterested and incurious about the details of policy matters, Donald Trump still functions as a reality show host and only cares for the spectacle of the photo-op.  On at least two occasions he has publicly met with Democratic members of Congress only to have Baghdad Sarah clarify that he did not mean what he said.

The autocrats of Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have played Donald Trump (who seems to have a soft spot for autocrats) like a fiddle with flattery designed to boost his insecure ego.  This is something that the North Korean despot has likely noticed between large bites of emmental cheese.

Finally, there is the hollowing out the State Department under the incompetent Rex Tillerson.  Even had he been willing/able to read a policy briefing, there is no American ambassador to South Korea and the Senate has not confirmed the top diplomat to South Korea.  It is hard to see Donald Trump making the effort between rounds of golf to bring himself up to speed on the issues to be discussed here.

There will be some who will credit Trump’s reckless brinkmanship in the past few months and loose talk by the warmongers in his administration of a bloody nose strike for bringing this meeting about.  However, given the likely policy gains of such a summit it is hard to see why the bellicose talk was needed.

When Barack Obama received shrill cries from the foreign policy establishment that he was willing to meet with America’s enemies, he clarified that obviously there would have to be ground work before such a meeting.  Such ground work took place before his trip to Cuba.  There has been no such ground work here.

After watching the fate of Saddam Hussein (who had not yet obtained them) and Muammar Gaddafi (who voluntarily dismantled his WMD program) it is hard to see Kim Jong Un ever handing over his nukes (even though his artillery trained on Seoul is probably sufficient to make any offensive war a non-starter).  So at best we will get some unverifiable commitment of the sort that North Korea has repeatedly reneged upon.  We will likely get some easing of sanctions for good behavior i.e. the same dog and pony show that we have seen over the past few decades.  And then there is the risk of Trump blurting out something dumb as is his wont.

In exchange Kim Jong Un achieves a North Korean foreign policy goal for at least the past 20 years – a summit with the American President.  He gets the propaganda value of broadcasting his acceptance as a world leader to his people.  He also gets the opportunity to deal with a naive self proclaimed deal maker and will likely walk away with his nuclear program intact.

We still do not have the details of the location and exact timing of the summit.  However, at this point it is hard to see this as anything other than a win for Kim Jong Un.

 

 

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