Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Putin Already Playing Nuclear Poker With Trump

“The Russian Federation reserves the right to utilize nuclear weapons in response to the utilization of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat. The decision to utilize nuclear weapons is made by the president of the Russian Federation.”

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Monday, December 19, 2016

CBS' 'Face The Nation' Downplays Henry Kissinger's Doubts That Russia Sought To Elect Trump

Dr. Kissinger: “I can’t quite understand what their purpose would be because in all the polls Hillary was far ahead, and they could not have had information on the polls that others didn’t have.  And then to antagonize the president-to-be by getting into an open support of the opponent doesn’t make any sense to me.  They were hacking, but the use they allegedly made of this hacking eludes me.”

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Trump's "Full Throttle" Energy Policy Could Devastate Putin's Petrostate (Tillerson to Deliver the Message?)

Putin’s regime is based on Russia’s oil and gas resources, which, despite his pledge to diversify, account for a quarter of the economy and half of state revenues (two thirds if other minerals are included). Putin can live with a stagnant economy and popular unrest, but he cannot survive a large and irreversible loss of Russia’s oil and gas earnings.

Basic economics explains how a Trump “high resource case” would undermine Putin’s petrostate: The first US fracking revolution made the US energy industry the “swing” or “marginal producer” on the world market. No matter what OPEC or Russia produces, the long-run price of oil will be set by the break-even cost of US unconventional oil and gas. The break-even is currently between $50 and $60 a barrel, but it is headed to lows of $40 or below.  We should not underestimate the technological ingenuity of the fracking industry.

But wait! Will not President Trump, known admirer of Putin, and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Order of Friendship recipient, use their immense political clout to cash in on lucrative Russian deals. Will not Trump and Tillerson throw money at their “bromance” partners, Putin and his Rosneft sidekick Igor Sechin, and save Russia’s failing petrostate?

What deals are we talking about? Over the near term, oil prices rule out large international investments in Russia, even if sanctions were lifted. At best, the Shells and BPs will try to salvage what they can from past mega-investments at $100 oil. No one is standing in line to throw their money away on loss-making Russian mega-deals, least among them an ExxonMobil headed by Tillerson’s successor.

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The 'Putin Directed The Leaks' Story Is Less Than It Appears

he NBC report intimates that our spies and intelligence officials know Putin’s innermost thoughts on matters of great importance, such as his preferences on the next US President. If so, NBC’s sources know more than Russian officials, pundits, oppositionists, and media about what Putin, isolated in in his Moscow suburban palace, is up to. Few officials seem to know how the Putin kleptocracy works. Is it a one-man show or is it run by a Kremlin Politburo?
As to linking Putin to a specific nefarious act, efforts by western intelligence and investigative press to link Putin to murders of renegade reporters, ex KGB turncoats, and notable political figures (Boris Nemtsov) have failed, but somehow NBC informants have been able to find almost “inconvertible evidence” of Putin’s personal involvement in the US election. His personal involvement may have been simply to sit back and enjoy the show.
As I have written on numerous occasions, the WikiLeaks disclosures have been a godsend for Putin to “show corruption in American politics,” as the NBC “bombshell” now claims. After surviving a much-criticized parliamentary election, the Kremlin media could regale the Russian public with US press accounts of a rigged election, conspiracies against the peoples’ candidate, Bernie Sanders, the riches of Soros, Goldman Sachs, and the Saudi princes determining the outcome, and the Clintons growing rich from their political connections. Putin could now ask: Who gives these Clintons the right to criticize me? What more was sweet revenge against Hillary Clinton could Putin ask for?

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Battle Over Russian Hacking Is Over The Legitimacy Of The Trump Presidency

Trump has resisted pressure to agree that Russia was behind the hacks and was trying to get him elected.  Trump’s political instincts are again serving him well. If he were to endorse the leaked intelligence community’s “high level of confidence” not only in the hacking but also in its intent, he would be signing on to the illegitimate President narrative the Democrats are pushing.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Media Wakes Up To Russia's "Fake News" Only After It Is Applied Against Hillary

Vladimir Putin bases his regime on “fake news” narratives of world affairs, which an astonished Angela Merkel characterized as “living in another world.” Putin’s very claim to power rests on “fake news” aimed at the Russian people and at “useful fools” in the West. Putin cannot abandon his “fake news” narratives. Russia, under Putin, has suffered isolation, economic stagnation, poverty, and falling living standards, all in the name of restoring Russian greatness and protecting Mother Russia and “near abroad” Russians. Putin could not survive if his “fake news” is exposed, especially to the Russian people.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro: A Litmus Test of American Political Thinking

The rise in favorable American opinion about Cuba, especially among Democrats, reflects the leftward tilt of their thinking, and a naïve belief, as expressed by the Sanders campaign, that Democratic Socialism is possible. If so, let them give one real-world example, and not the phony Scandinavian model. Fidel knew otherwise and did not tinker with democracy, and he died in power. Gorbachev did not, and he was unceremoniously dumped from power. I imagine Raul Castro is aware of these facts.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

International Criminal Court: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine Is a 'Crime,' Not A Civil War

As Donald Trump picks his foreign policy team, he should worry about those who believe all or part of the Putin Ukraine narrative, which has just been shredded by the International Criminal Court report. Believe it or not, the Putin narrative that the West is to blame and that Russia is a bystander to the Ukraine conflict has its supporters throughout Europe and among US diplomats and scholars. Let us hope that none end up advising the President-elect.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Unbeholden President Trump Takes The Measure of Vladimir Putin

Trump has a clear mandate for domestic policy. His views on international affairs are in the process of being formed. His most immediate challenge will be dealing with Vladimir Putin. If he understands what makes Putin tick, we, NATO, Ukraine and other regions threatened by Russia will be OK. He must resist the advice of the many “experts” in the west who peddle the Russian line that we are to blame for everything that is wrong in our relations. The hysterical reaction of some that Trump will be Putin’s puppet will prove as wrong as Tuesday evening’s polls. If not, Trump loses the right to call himself a master of the art of the deal.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Corrupt Dealings Have Given Putin A Massive Propaganda Victory

Putin’s propagandists are waiting for the election results, as are American voters, to tell them whether Americans are turned off by Washington DC, Inc. or will follow Clinton’s misdirection – the oldest trick in the magician’s bag. In any case, Putin is the winner no matter who wins the US election. The next time the West wants to reprimand him for his repressive electoral tricks, he’ll simply remind his critics of the DNC Wikileaks. If critics complain about the enrichment of his inner circle, he only need rehash the antics of the Clinton Foundation. If we complain about his state-run media, Putin need only talk about the cozy relationship between the mainstream media and the Democratic Party. Vladimir Putin will be a satisfied man next Tuesday.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Where Was The Media When The Clinton Email Scandal Broke Three Years Ago?

As a contributor to the breaking of the Clinton email scandal story in March of 2013, I contend that these three-year-old facts should have raised serious questions about Hillary Clinton’s judgment and her credentials to serve as commander in chief. These questions were ignored by the mainstream media. If the media had done its job then, Hillary Clinton may not have become the Democratic Party’s nominee, or, if she had, the scandal would indeed have been “old business, nothing to see here.”

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Why Historians Must Use Wikileaks To Write The History of the 2016 Election

Wikileaks is playing a prominent, if under reported, role, in the 2016 American presidential election. Few understand the importance of Wikileaks in the eventual writing of the history of presidential politics.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Americans Have Lost Trust in Government For Good Reason

 Republican elites seem to think that defeating Trump will make all their problems go away, allowing them to return to business as usual. What wishful thinking.

go to Real Clear Policy.com

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Clinton’s E-mails: The Gift That Keeps on Giving to Vladimir Putin

So far, none of Hillary’s “personal” e-mails have been released. If they are in the possession of Russia or other hostile powers, they may be released before the election, if the hostile powers consider that could change the election result. Or the hostile power may decide to hold the 33,000 e-mails for a drip-drip release throughout a Clinton presidency. This Chinese water torture would weaken Clinton, make her the subject of congressional investigations and Freedom of Information requests. A Putin could perhaps have what he wants — a severely weakened Hillary Clinton as U.S. president. He might enjoy that more than a Trump presidency.

go to National Review

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Obama Lets Putin Get Away With Anything Except Attacking Democrats

It remains to be seen whether Obama, Clinton, and their followers will make an exception in this case and take measures that cause Putin and his Kremlin gang real pain? I have a long list: Obama’s treasury can leak the details of Putin’s hidden wealth and that of his inner circle. Obama can use the Congressional approval he already has in his pocket to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. He can propose increases in defense spending and the bucking up of NATO. How about rejuvenating Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to counter his propaganda to the Russian people?

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wikileaks Fails To Deliver An October Surprise As Hillary Says To Worry About Putin's Meddling

The massive email cache that Hillary ordered destroyed almost a year ago remains one of the last great mysteries of her email scandal. These very documents may be in the possession of foreign powers, and may contain harmful, embarrassing, or incriminating materials that have thepotential to alter the outcome of the 2016 election or her conduct as US President. My analysis suggests that emails concerning the Clinton Foundation were automatically classified as “personal.” “Inner sanctum” emails exchanged among clintonmail.com users were likely classified as “personal” as well. Both categories would have been destroyed when the 33,000 personal emails were wiped clean. There is no evidence that any of them have been recovered by forensic means.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why Putin Will Never Accept Blame Even Though Russia's Downing of MH17 Was By Mistake

Putin can never admit that a Russian crew shot down MH17 with a Russian missile fired from rebel-occupied territory in Ukraine. To do so would tear to pieces the Kremlin’s alternative-universe narrative of the Russian-Ukraine War. Yes, it should be called a war between Ukraine and Russia. That is what it is, but Russia has somehow positioned itself as a peace maker between warring sides. What a disaster of Western diplomacy!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Putin Puts An End To Electoral Politics In Russia

The Sunday September 18 election for the Russian parliament has given Vladimir Putin another pro-Putin parliament (Duma) to routinely rubber-stamp his most ludicrous and repressive legislation. His United Russia party gained a majority (54 percent according to preliminary results). No opposition party crossed the five percent hurdle; instead, the reliable Communist (13 percent), Liberal Democrat (13 percent), and Just Russia Parties (6 percent) will join United Russia in the new Duma. Only sixteen candidates from the so-called small parties gained seats in regional parliaments. In a word: The Duma election was a total wipeout of legislative opposition in Putin’s Russia. This is no big deal in itself because the legislative branch has little power, but the election signaled the end of hope for change through elections in Russia. Palace coups or the streets are the only remaining options of the Russian people.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

An Open Letter To Donald Trump Regarding His Fondness For Vladimir Putin

Dear Mr. Trump: As someone who has studied Russia for a half century, I’d like to respond to each of the five main points concerning Vladimir Putin and Russia you made at NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum“ on September 7. Some make eminent sense; others reflect a lack of understanding of Putin’s Russia. What follows are your five points, followed by my comments. (You did not speak about point six, but I add that anyway).

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hillary Delivers Self-Inflicted Wound with “Deplorables” Comment

To label 60 million Trump supporters as potential racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes. Islamophobes and whatever new “phobes” Clinton can come up with represents one of the greatest gaffes of American electoral history. It was supposed to be Trump to commit such an error, not the super-experienced Hillary.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Putin Shuts Down Last Russian Independent Pollster In Anticipation of Russian and US Election

Putin plans his sweetest revenge for Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Russian “democracy” in 2011 and 2012, when she berated Putin for his phony parliamentary and presidential elections. With the hack of the Democratic National Committee (presumably by Russian cyber-attackers or subcontractors), he can now argue that the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections are as pure as the driven snow. After all, 14 parties are running their candidates. They have been allowed to debate on Russian TV (one was even allowed to call for Putin’s impeachment).

Putin will say: What a contrast to the flawed and crooked U.S. election. He will cite the DNC papers describing the party’s official campaign to favor Hillary Clinton and destroy the candidacy of the upright and honest Bernie Sanders. Putin can cite the “pay for play” politics of the Clintons and dare them to criticize Russia’s honest business men, when the King and Queen of corruption are none other than the Clintons themselves.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Russian Combat Medals Put Lie To Putin's Claim Of No Russian Troops In Ukraine

The Kremlin’s fig leaves that cast slight shadows of doubt on the truth of regular Russian troops in Ukraine provide a disorganized, timid, and even cowardly West a reason for inaction. We all know that a Russian missile shot down MH17 and that there are regular Russian troops in east Ukraine, but as long as there is a one in a thousand chance of another explanation, we have a reason to hold back. After all, isn’t Russia a “great nation?” Shouldn’t we give their explanations a hearing no matter how crazy?
There will be no peace until we call the Russian narrative for what it is – a lie. In the meantime, the words we use matter in determining the eventual outcome and burning Putin’s fig leaves remains a worthwhile activity.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Under Russia's New Extremism Laws, Liking My Writings On Ukraine Could Mean Jail Terms

Although my piece was read by a third of a million readers and was picked up in major press reports, the Russian version of “historical facts and events” prevails. Putin’s propaganda machine, both at home and abroad, has overwhelmed what I consider to be the real story of the Crimean annexation with its repeated lies. The first change of postwar boundaries by military force was therefore justified on the basis of one out of five voters voting for annexation and a turnout below fifty percent.
Under the Yarovaya Amendment, it’s entirely conceivable that my Russian readers could go to jail for reading and liking my writings. Because the official Russian line on Crimea and Ukraine differs from the truth, any writer who describes the truth, under Russian law, is now an “extremist.” Putin’s “parallel universe” of “alternate reality” that has shocked world leaders does not reflect the truth, but the Russian people must accept it as truth, or face punishment.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Putin October Surprise Would Be Hillary's Fault

If WikiLeaks releases incriminating documents from Hillary’s scrubbed “private” cache, there exists no legitimate “true” document for comparison. Hillary could not prove the leaked document never existed or was altered, unless she squirreled away in some safe place copies of her “private” cache. If so, she could not use them without exposing an unforgivable lie. Hillary’s deleting of the thousands of self-declared “private” emails  may have  given a hostile foreign power the wherewithal to determine the outcome of a presidential election. Hillary has no one to blame but herself. Will the chickens come home to roost in late October?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump’s Manafort’s Troubling Ukraine Ties Routine for DC’s K Street Bottom Feeders

The brilliance of the mainstream media’s attack on small-fry Manafort is that it diverts attention from the potential granddaddy of corruption schemes. The Clinton Foundation, if there is ever a real investigation, may be shown to have eliminated the K Street middleman. By contributing directly to the Clinton machine, a foreign government or a corrupt foreign oligarch can gain access directly to the heart of government. Just think of the possibilities: Today the State Department, tomorrow the presidency of the United States.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439065/manafort-ukraine-democrats-clinton

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Hillary’s Two Years of Financial Hardship in the Top Five Percent

The Times’s fundamental mistake is to claim that the choice of public service means lower income and wealth. Few enter Congress as wealthy individuals. Few leave without joining the millionaires club. Has the Times not figured this out yet? The Clintons are a living example, if they have not noticed.

go to ricochet.com

Do Alternative Estimates Show China Entering A Period Of Stagnation?

Chinese reforms seem unlikely. Premier Xi has declared the state sector the “backbone” of the economy. Party cadres have been instructed to take the teachings of Karl Marx seriously. Private businesses do not hold out hope for equal and fair treatment under Xi’s socialism with a Chinese face. Successful business owners will continue to plan their emigration to Canada or Australia before the long arm of the state and party catches up with them. China’s puzzle has been it rapid growth despite its miserable (144th) economic freedom indexranking. Perhaps China’s performance is starting to reflect the low quality of its institutions.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

DNC Data Dump Gives Putin A 'Two-For-One' Win

Hillary’s campaign has made a point that Putin wants her opponent elected. Putin knows what he would have with a weakened and tainted Clinton. He does not have the same knowledge of Trump. He may see something of himself in Trump as someone who does not shirk from a fight and hates to lose. Could Putin be thinking of changing horses?

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Trump, Deferring To Putin, Deleted GOP Platform's Call To Supply Ukraine With Lethal Defensive Weapons

Trump has boasted that a good negotiator does not say what he is not going to do in advance. Removing defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine from the platform does just that. It is a sign of a weak negotiator. The eyes of the nation should be on arms for Ukraine as the Republican convention unfolds. If Trump sends the wrong signal, he risks his credentials as a strong leader.

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hillary Not in the Clear Yet: The Scrubbed "Private" E-mails

Remarkably, Putin need not even have Clinton’s emails. Putin’s army of “information technologists” (propagandists) can release professional fabrications through clandestine sources throughout the world. Clinton cannot disprove these narratives. Putin supposedly has the evidence in black and white. She has wiped exculpatory evidence clean. Both Putin and Clinton know that repeated unrebutted narratives become the truth. Even his lies will seem more credible than her denials.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Comey Says Hillary's Inner Circle hacked by Foreign Hostiles. Why Not Hillary?

There appears to be significant overlooked news in Comey’s statement. To date, we have known only that the Romanian hacker, Guccifer, breached Clinton advisor, Sidney Blumenthal’s account. Comey, however, states that hostile actors (plural) gained access to the accounts (plural) of Clinton’s regular contacts. So the FBI has evidence of more than one successful hack of accounts of Clinton associates. In this light, Comey’s statement that a hack of Clinton’s account was “possible” is a gross and peculiar understatement.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Benghazi Commercial That Can Cost Hillary the Presidency

Surely the Trump campaign or the RNC is teeing up the video contrasting the tearful testimony of the families of the fallen heroes with Hillary’s parsed denials. There is little doubt which side viewers will believe. Such a spot will eclipse the John Kerry swift boat campaign with its emotional impact. The American public will believe the fathers and mothers not, to use Donald Trumps’ words “Crooked Hillary.”

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Calm Down, Brexit Will Not Be A Catastrophe

The consensus appears to be that Putin’s Russia will benefit from Brexit’s uncertainty and confusion, but the EU reaction to Putin’s foreign adventures has not been effective and coordinated so far. How Putin fares depends much more on inner German and French politics than on the EU. The Brexit battle resembles the unfolding U.S. election campaign. Hillary Clinton represents the Brussels-type internationalist establishment, and Donald Trump represents the nationalist/populist interests of those who feel over-regulated, dominated, and lectured down to by the political class.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Rational Case for Conservatives to Vote For Trump

Donald Trump was near the bottom of my candidate choices during the primaries. I was among those who thought that his intemperate remarks would spell the end of his campaign, but they did not. That his campaign consisted of a few slogans rather than policies disturbed me. As someone who follows the Kremlin’s perfidy closely, Trump’s offhand praise of Putin was more than disturbing and elicited warnings from me. As a committed small-government conservative, I worry that Trump’s instincts do not mirror my own. In a word, I am an unlikely Trump voter, but come November I will pull the Trump lever without hesitation.  I consider my reasons rational and want to share them in this forum.

My reasons for voting for Trump:

First, there is no doubt that a Clinton regime will nominate Supreme Court justices who meet the demands of her extreme left-wing base. With a Supreme Court dominated by proponents of a living constitution, the protections of the Bill of Rights and the final check on an out-of-control executive will be lost and lost for decades.

Second, although Trump is a high variance candidate, we know that Hillary Clinton is dishonest, a known liar and, through the email scandal and Clinton Foundation’s wheeling and dealing, she places personal interests above national interests.  If Putin has her emails, we could have a president subject to Kremlin blackmail. Trump may have blemishes in his background, but none compare to Hillary. Where she anyone other than a Clinton, she would be under criminal indictment.

Third, Trump’s foreign policy cannot be worse than Hillary’s failed years as Secretary of State. He has stated clearly that his foreign policy will be dictated by the national interest, not by the Obama-Clinton “citizen of the world” approach.

Fourth, Trump is correct in promising to solve the free-rider problem with America’s allies. If NATO countries are not willing to contribute their fair share to the common Trans Atlantic alliance, they should suffer the consequences. Hopefully, Trump will allow for a designated transition period to give NATO members time to contribute their share.

Fifth, Trump has tapped into mainstream America’s disenchantment with Washington’s domination by special interests. The American people understand our national politics are broke and that both sides of the aisle are complicit. The people understand the problem is not a lack of cooperation but of corruption. A Clinton administration would mean even more of a broken Washington. Trump will have to battle the odds, including many in his own party, to make the basic changes in Washington that the working people of America want.

Sixth, economists of virtually all persuasions, including myself, favor free trade. Thus my initial reaction to Trump’s attack on trade (much of which had the wrong target such as exchange rates) was negative. However, one needs only to read the business-page headlines (such as China’s deplorable treatment of Apple and banning of American chicken) to see that Trump’s call for fair trade is not without merit. We do perhaps need better negotiators to achieve fair trade, and Trump might actually improve free trade in the end.

Seventh, if a nation does not have control of its borders, it is no longer a nation. Nations must determine who they wish to enter the country for work and eventual citizenship. Most wealthy countries, like the US and Europe, need immigrants for their labor force and economic growth, but the choice of whom to admit should be determined by sensible rules, such as admitting very large numbers of highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Who gets into the United States should not be determined by unguarded borders, human traffickers, and family relations. America’s high school drop outs understand what Washington does not. Open borders drive down their earnings. We know that Hillary would not pursue a “rational” approach. Trump has promised he will.

Eighth, Trump has street-fighter instincts that the Republicans’ last two presidential candidates lacked. John McCain refused to go after Rev. Wright and Bill Ayres, and Mitt Romney insisted on playing the role of gentleman candidate. The Democrats can only be beaten by a candidate who is able to outpunch them. It is important that Trump’s attacks not be sui generis, but should focus on specific weaknesses, like Hillary’s sullied history and her failure as secretary of state.
Ninth, Trump has done the conservative and Republican causes a service by attacking political correctness and media bias head on. He has shown that fighting back rather than cowering in a corner or trying to place is the only way to deal with the twin curse of media bias and political correctness run amok.
My reservations about Trump include:

First, he has not demonstrated an ability to run a viable general-election campaign. To do so, he must focus on the opposition and not on fellow Republicans. On important policy issues, he should keep his mouth shut until he has thought through his positions with competent advisors.
Second, I do not know the depth of his anti-government, strict constitutionalist convictions.
Third, he must demonstrate that he is willing to do the study and work which is required to be a viable national candidate.

But my Trump reservations are minor relative to the alternative. Rational voters have no choice but to look at the alternative. On this, Trump wins hands down.

go to ricochet.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What Russia's DNC Hack Tells Us About Hillary Clinton's Private Email Server

The Post seems on board with the benign nature of the attack: “The intrusions are an example of Russia’s interest in the U.S. political system and its desire to understand the policies, strengths and weaknesses of a potential future president…”
The Post admits that such hacked information could prove of operational significance to Russian policy makers. For example, Russia might use Donald Trump’s foreign investments “to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism.”  In other words, the greater concern is not Russian hacking but whether Trump may place his business interests above national interests as President. In reality, the exclusive indirectly speaks to a more sinister aspect of Russian cyber spying.  

go to Forbes.com

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Putin's Army Of Internet Trolls Is Influencing The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal

The Hillary Clinton email scandal broke more than three years ago—on March 19, 2013—with the Russian news service RT’s publication of Sidney Blumenthal’s emails to the then-Secretary of State. What most American journalists don’t realize is that Putin’s internet army continues to influence the evolution of the story through Putin narratives that penetrate influential outlets such as FoxNews and Media Matters

go to Forbes.com

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Putin For Life?

One of the few remaining non-Kremlin-line newspapers, RBK, leaked a memo in its possession from the Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation, headed by General Nikolai Tutevich, to General Viktor Zolotov, commander of the newly-created National Guard of the Russian Federation. In the leaked letter, Tutevic demands of Zolotov that he punish those responsible for the murder of Boris Nemtsov. The contents of the leaked document, carried also byKommersantNovaya Gazeta and other non-Kremlin news outlets, made the sensational charge that the commander of Putin’s new private army (Zolotov) and, by implication, Putin’s loyalist Chechen strongman,Ramzan Kadyrov are involved in some way in the murder and cover-up of the Nemtsov murder in February 2015.

go to Forbes.com

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trump’s First Principles: The Foreign Policy Speech Was a Good Start

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I have taken him to task for his foolhardy comments on Vladimir Putin and his dismissive remarks on NATO and Ukraine. In the one area where economists agree, Trump takes a dangerous anti-trade mercantilist position. (We can only hope that Trump is simply trolling for populist votes.) In off-the-cuff remarks and sit-down interviews, Trump has been off-balance, displaying a lack of  knowledge of international affairs, and making contradictory statements. The press gives him free press time in the hopes of capturing on camera his latest outrage. These and other events explain the legitimate deep-seated concern among many voters concerning the Trump candidacy.

As Trump assumes the role of presumptive nominee, voters must decide whether, behind his entertainer, insult-master façade, there resides a serious Trump, who harbors first principles that will forge his political actions as president. Trump’s major foreign policy address, delivered in Washington on April 27, was billed as the first of several policy statements that lay out the candidate’s views. Candidate Trump uncharacteristically delivered the speech via a teleprompter. If he did not write it, he must at least have approved of its contents. As such, the speech deserved careful attention and analysis.

Instead, Trump’s foreign policy speech was dismissed by many in the mainstream media as a pseudo-eventbafflinginconsistent, a jumble, and as “drawing negative reactions across the political spectrum.”  Abroad, the speech was said to be met by amusement and befuddlement. Critics nagged that the speech was short on details. In its condescending editorial, the New York Times huffed:  “Mr. Trump did not display any willingness to learn or to correct his past errors. For someone who claims he is ready to lead the free world that is inexcusable.” What “past errors” does the Times mean for someone who has never held public office?

Respected Wall Street Journal opinion writers lined up on different sides on the merits of Trump’s foreign policy address: Bret Stephens, in his GOP Gets What It Deserves, took issue with Trump’s “America First” slogan.  Stephens concludes that Trump either chose “America first” “through a dense fog of historical ignorance” (about the isolationist America First Committee of the 1930s and 1940s) or that he is “resurrecting the most disastrous and discredited strain of American foreign policy for a new generation of American ignoramuses.” (I’d welcome a survey of Congress to see how many were familiar with the American First Committee).

Peggy Noonan in her more measured Simple Patriotism Trumps Ideology gives Trump a pass “on his lack of experience in elective office and the daily realities of national politics.” She concludes America is ready for Trump’s disinterest in ideology. What they find important is that “he is on America’s side” and appreciate his unabashed “I’m about America, end of story.” 

Given the generally negative media reaction, I conducted my own small sample of conservative friends and colleagues – none Trump supporters – on what they thought of the Trump foreign policy speech. The common reaction was the same. With the exception of trade bashing, they found little with which to disagree.

As I interpret Trump’s “Put America first,” it is not a call to isolationism, but, to use his words, a pledge that his “foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first.” I would argue that thoughtful people would label this as a rational principle of foreign policy. Why give up US interests for the benefit of others, some of whom may be our enemies? Of course, we cannot know how Trump will define American interests, and that may be the rub. He may decide emasculating NATO or abandoning Ukraine to Putin is in America’s interest. Elections are about choosing who will make decisions such as these. They are often a crap shoot.

Trump’s “Let’s Put America first” seems to me to be a statement of first principles. Despite the many flubs, gaffes, and miscues of the Trump campaign, putting the interests of the American people and American security above all else has been a constant themes of his campaign. Let us hope that Trump is struggling, to use Noonan’s words, “to blend into a coherent whole what he’s previously said when popping off on the hustings. He was trying to establish that there’s a theme….to reassure potential supporters that he is actually serious.”

Trump’s  “Let’s put America first” stands in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s “America as a member of the community of nations” theme enunciated at about the same phase of the 2008 election campaign. In retrospect, we understand that Obama’s presentation of himself as a fellow citizen of the world was not empty rhetoric. His eight years have seen deference to international organizations and practices, preference for multi-national negotiations, and rejection of any go-it-alone in international dealings. Trump’s pledge to “put the American people and American security first” is a declaration that such thinking will not be tolerated in his administration. And I agree with Noonan that he has the American people on his side on this point. America has had enough of UN-based climate treaties and Iranian negotiations that give Russia and China oversized roles.

We have learned from Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” that slogans matter. Obama has indeed given us “change” but by coercive executive action. America should be paying attention to Trump’s “make America great again.” More likely than not, he believes it.

Trump’s most dismissive critics neglect to note that his call for a foreign policy dictated by American interests falls within the mainstream of centuries-old Realpolitik. As we have learned over the past eight years, Obama’s reliance on and deference to international institutions (such as the often anti-American United Nations) represents an aberration that will likely not outlive his administration. Trump’s critics have no choice but to slur over the mainstream nature of Trump’s guiding principle by attempting to conflate it with pure isolationism.

I would urge a more sober analysis when Trump releases his next policy papers. The public will not read them. They are meant for the domestic and international punditry. If they are to be automatically trashed and not vetted for good and bad points, Trump might as well stick with his mass rallies and leave us in the dark about where he stands on the serious issues of the day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Great Successor Joins the Eternals As General Secretary: The North Korean Party Congress

The four-day North Korean Party Congress completed on May 8 followed the standard choreography set almost a century earlier by Vladimir Lenin and Josif Stalin. Their scenarios were introduced to Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea by Soviet advisors and secret agents after the war. While subsequent Communist Party Congresses, with their thousands of wildly-clapping jubilant delegates, decorated streets, extravagant mass parades, excited media coverage, and multiple-hour speeches to an audience pretending to be attentive, appear as comical rituals to outsiders, they serve a serious purpose that has not changed since the days of Lenin and Stalin. 

go to Forbes.com

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How The Kremlin Lies With Headlines Like 'Ukrainian Fighter Jet Shot Down Malaysia Airlines' MH17'

The shock headline shows how Russian propaganda works. By luck or design, a news item appears in a legitimate media outlet, such as BBC, Reuters, or NBC. It gives a small opening for distorted interpretation, which is exploited in the form of a sensationalist headline in tabloids or Russian-sponsored media. The misinformation is repeated over and over until it gains public credence.

go to Forbes.com

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Putin’s Government in Donbas

Russia has offered to use what it calls its “limited influence” to persuade the rebel governments to cooperate. If, however, Russia is actually in full control of the separatist regions and is actively integrating them into its economy, as the document obtained by Bildsuggests, the Kremlin can no longer be considered an outside party, attempting to influence an uncooperative ally. Instead, it would be clear that the leaders of the breakaway regions are, at best, puppets, and that the true parties to the negotiation are Russia and Ukraine.
None of this will come as a surprise to officials in Kyiv, who have long claimed that the separatist authorities with whom they are expected to reach an agreement are getting their marching orders from Russian superiors. But it could have an important influence on the stance taken by the European officials who are attempting to facilitate the process.

go to project syndicate

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Barack Obama Extols Cuba's Slave-Labor Medical Care

That Bernie Sanders is making a serious run for president should raise serious alarm. As an avowed socialist, he is pushing socialist and communist programs like Cuba’s socialized medicine without understanding, like Obama, that they are based on slave labor. Our most prestigious campuses do not teach that communism has failed in all cases or that textbooks cannot cite one real-world example of Sanders’s vaunted democratic socialism. 

go to Forbes.com

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Putin Caught In Huge Panama Papers Scandal

The dump of millions of documents hacked from Panama offshore accounts implicatesVladimir Putin’s inner circle. We already knew that Putin and his Kremlin kleptocrats were robbing Russia of its assets for personal gain, but the Panama Papers provide a proof in black and white, which Putin’s propaganda team cannot refute. This damning evidence will inevitably play a role in the upcoming parliamentary elections in September.

go to Forbes.com

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Donald Trump's Foreign Policy Plan Would Give Putin Exactly What He Wants

Trump is selling himself to American voters as one of the world’s best negotiators who knows how to begin by asking more than he’ll settle for. We now move Trump to the stage of grand global policy and it appears as if he is conceding before the negotiation even begins to a better negotiator who understands how to frighten even a “strong man” like Trump purports to be. As it now stands, Trump is proposing to give Putin his most sacred dream of U.S. disengagement from NATO and Ukraine without getting anything in return. Quite a negotiating feat.

go to Forbes.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ten Reasons Why Putin Wins Big In Syria While The U.S. Gets Nothing

Putin’s payoff from his Syrian “peace keeping” could be enormous; namely, a breakup of NATO and the European Union and a sell out by the West of Ukraine on the grounds that it is not fulfilling the conditions of the Minsk 2 agreement (as if Russia is). If this happens, Putin has achieved his main goal–the end of Ukraine as a unitary state to demonstrate the risks of attempting to break free from Russia’s “sphere of influence.” The ultimate disgrace is that the West welcomed Putin as a partner in Syria on the basis of his promise to fight ISIS. Instead, Putin bombed the opponents of Assad, inflicting massive civilian casualties on them and contributing to the migration flow into Europe. ISIS did not seem to appear on his target list. For those who know Putin, this was no surprise.

go to Forbes.com

Monday, March 14, 2016

Russia’s Economic Crisis Threatens Putin’s 2016 Mid-Term Election Schemes

The September 18 Russian parliamentary (Duma) election and the November 8 U.S. elections reinforce the wisdom of Churchill’s famous quip: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” Whether the establishment likes it or not, the U.S. primary campaigns have laid bare tectonic voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. Presumably, the U.S. political system will respond one way or another, perhaps with the election of an outsider. The Russian Duma elections will take place amidst a deep economic crisis according to election rules specifically designed to blunt and conceal voter disaffection. The Putin regime incurs risks with this strategy: It creates an opportunity for a political force that actually addresses the deep concerns of the people. It is virtually impossible for the cautious Putin to plan for every eventuality.

go to Forbes.com

Monday, February 22, 2016

Putin Hammers Another Nail In The Coffin Of The Russian Economy

As the Russian economy sinks ever lower, the Kremlin will become even more desperate. The house arrests of those with money will accelerate into a vicious circle, for by robbing those with money, there will be less money to go around, and the economy will sink even further. I guess Putin does not know the tale of the goose that laid the golden eggs. As the Russian economist, Sergey Aleksashenko writes in his February 22 Nota Bene column: If Russian authorities wanted to decisively destroy hope for a turn-around of the economy to a trajectory of growth that would be to publicly demonstrate that property in Russia is not protected by anything.

go to Forbes.com

Friday, February 19, 2016

Putin Favors Trump or Sanders for President. Here’s Why That Matters to You

Trump and Sanders supporters must understand that their backing of a pie-in-the-sky socialist/pacifist or an entertainer/businessman puts them in the same camp as Russia’s corrupt leader. Vladimir Putin is hoping American voters give him the opportunity to play chess against checkers amateurs as he pulls Europe apart, strengthens unsavory regimes in Iran and Syria, and seeks to restore lost Soviet territory by force.

go to TheBlaze.com

Monday, February 15, 2016

In Defense of Wall Street

Pity Wall Street. The democratic party’s presidential candidates have painted a bullseye on its back. Bernie Sanders wants, in effect, to nationalize Wall Street. Hillary Clinton joins in the anti-Wall Street feeding frenzy lest her and her husband’s ties to Goldman Sachs and other institutions become a bigger issue.

Wall Street bankers are widely portrayed as evil parasites, feeding their greed through speculation that serves no good other than to line unsavory pockets, and buying off politicians with campaign contributions and lucrative speaking fees. ``One percent’’ Wall Streeters are said to be getting mega-rich while everyone else suffers.

Republican candidates fear to come to Wall Street’s defense.  Any positive words about Wall Street will end up as a negative sound bite come election time. During the occupy Wall Street riots, I do not recall one political voice speaking up for Wall Street against the tirades of hooligan protesters.

go to Investors Business Daily.com

Note: IBD got my affiliation wrong: Cullen Professor of Economics, University of Houston and Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Trump’s Tariffs Would Make the U.S. a Renegade in the World Community

In the Saturday night debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump again threatened a 35 percent tariff on goods produced in Mexico by an American company that has relocated to Mexico. No opposing candidate pointed out that such a retaliatory tariff would violate the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) of which the United States is a member in good standing. (It would also be in violation of the NAFTA agreement).

WTO is the international organization that sets the rules of the game in international trade that its members have agreed to follow. It has worked to reduce trade barriers among countries and has contributed to the rise of international trade across the globe.

For years, the United States opposed admitting Russia into the WTO because of its indifference to the rule of law. The United States earlier lobbied for China’s admission on the grounds that membership would make it a stable party of the world economic community.

If a President Trump carried through on his threats to impose confiscatory tariffs (the average WTO tariff rate is below five percent), the United States would be in clear violation of WTO rules and would be subject to penalties. If a Trump administration ignored the WTO penalties, it would become a renegade member, no better than Putin’s Russia.

Retaliatory tariffs carry with them a strong populist message, but they are anathema to free trade and globalization. It is a shame they hold such appeal. Economists, who rarely agree on anything, are united in their support for free trade and globalization. Although populists claim the contrary, trade expansion is a clear net win-win – the gains of the winners exceeds the losses of the losers. The problem is that those who lose are more vocal and visible than those who gain. We require a chief executive with a broad perspective, something that candidate Trump lacks.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Antonin Scalia, RIP

The American people have lost Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice with a rock solid understanding of the constitutional framers original intent of limited government. Scalia stood in the way of those justices who subscribe to a “living constitution” that should change with the times. As such, Scalia was a stalwart defender of liberty.

Scalia apparently passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at a ranch in Texas. Conspiracy theories are bound to arise; so I trust that a thorough autopsy to determine the causes of death will be conducted. Many are prone to believe that events that change the political landscape do not happen by chance. They must be satisfied to avoid endless controversy conducted on the fringes.

It is too early to know what comes next. Will President Obama have time to push through a nominee of his choice? At a minimum, Scalia’s passing brings home the importance of the 2016 election and the new president’s choice for filling Supreme Court vacancies.

Scalia’s passing could also focus attention on the replacement choices that different Republican candidates might make. Republican primary voters may consider a candidate’s core beliefs rather than showmanship. In this regard, Ted Cruz might have a stronger case than his primary opponents, in particular Donald Trump. It could also direct attention to Michael Bloomberg, whom voters might think will choose a “moderate” Justice and this avoid a national fight to the finish.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What If Vladimir Putin Has Hillary Clinton's Emails?

Those who follow Kremlin propaganda understand that it is not necessary for Putin to have Clinton’s e-mails to cause serious damage to a Clinton presidency. All he needs is that many believe he has Hillary’s e-mails.

go to Forbes.com

Monday, February 8, 2016

Low Energy Prices and Recession? Analysts Ignore the Supply-Side Elephant in the Corner

Gloom and doom is wreaking havoc in financial and commodity markets as oil prices probe new lows. Headlines proclaim that domestic energy producers face bankruptcy, layoffs, and can’t pay back toxic loans. Meanwhile, energy-producing countries must contend with deteriorating public finances and recession. The old reliable China is no longer around to take up the slack in energy and commodity markets. It turns out, so the business-page pundits say, that low energy prices are a curse that could push the U.S. and the rest of the world into recession. An article on the Wall Street Journal op ed pages, no less, warns that “we face the first one (recession) ever caused falling oil prices.” Student of Economics 101 learn the opposite: low energy prices, resulting from exogenous forces, stimulate the economy.  Can it be that widespread belief in bad economics can send the world economy into a nose dive?

Our media business gurus have fallen for the “that which is seen and that which is unseen” illusion of which the French economist Frederic Bastiat warned in 1850. Bastiat applied this principle to international trade, where those who lose from trade are more visible and vocal than those who gain. Business journalists write about the “visible” loss of jobs in the oil patch. They do not write about the “invisible” gains of chemicals, heavy manufacturing, transportation, and even many services from lower energy costs. At best, they use Keynesian blinkers to focus on the extra pocket money of consumers from lower pump prices, but worry that spooked households are saving their windfall, not spending (despite no evidence of an increase in the saving rate). Yes. Keynes still dominates the financial press.

There is no doubt that the Petro States are being deeply harmed by the collapse of oil prices. Russia relies on oil for more than half of its state revenue and is completing two years of recession with more likely to come. Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan join Russia in drawing down oil funds accumulated during good times. Petro States with access to capital markets may have to sell shares of their national oil companies to survive. There is even discussion of public offerings of Aramco and Rosneft. The Venezuela of the Chavistas can no longer afford payoffs to core voters or ship subsidized oil to Cuba. Iran is returning to world oil markets just in time for historically low prices.

The Petro States account for only around ten percent of world GDP. The oil and gas sector accounts for a half of one percent of employment in the United States. Their losses are the “what is seen.” Those who gain from lower energy prices account for the bulk of world output and employment.

Returning to basic economics: There seems to be agreement that the massive negative oil price, shock is the result of the fracking revolution; e.g., the consequence of technological change. Standard macroeconomic principles texts teach that exogenously-induced lower energy prices reduce the cost of doing business throughout the economy, thereby increasing aggregate supply. More aggregate supply means higher real GDP and a lower price level. We certainly learned the negative effects of positive energy price shocks in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Should we not expect now to sit back and enjoy the reverse? That’s not the case. For some strange reason, economic journalists and pundits have concluded that low energy prices are harmful.
Pundits complain that politicians are interested in the short run and that CEOs worry only about quarterly earnings. Economic pundits are equally handicapped by short-run thinking. The aggregate supply curve may not shift to the right immediately, but it will.

Economists work on the principle of abstraction: Economic theory aims to isolate the most important factors causing economic phenomena, brushing aside the less significant ones with the ceteris paribus assumption. Abstraction tells us that the gains from lower energy prices are widespread throughout the U.S. and world economy, whereas the losses are limited geographically and sector-wise. Financial writers should begin their analysis with the economic basics and not get distracted by other details. In this case, by ignoring the supply side, they are missing the elephant sitting in the corner.