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“Donald Trump Is Dead Wrong”: America Is A Fabulously Rich And Great Nation

America isn’t broke. Nor is it on the verge of a government debt crisis (whatever “crisis” even means for a nation whose debt is printed in a currency that is both its own and the world’s reserve). America is not in decay, and the last thing the U.S. should do is rashly withdraw from a dangerous world because of those mistaken beliefs.

This should be especially clear after the Belgium terror attacks.

Yet retreat is just what Donald Trump seems to be proposing. In an interview with The Washington Post editorial board Monday, Trump questioned the U.S. role in NATO and presence in Asia due to the financial burden they require:

I mean, we pay billions — hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are. … When you look at the kind of money that our country is losing, we can’t afford to do this. Certainly we can’t afford to do it anymore…. I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now. [Trump]

Looks like we finally found something Trump is in favor of off-shoring: America’s security.

Now, it’s certainly legitimate to evaluate the mission and cost of America’s overseas military commitments and posture. But that’s a different thing than scrapping our military alliances — or threatening to do so as some ham-handed budget negotiating tactic. Leading the free world, reassuring allies, and deterring aggression have little overlap with the skills needed to drive a hard bargain with a potential tenant in Trump Tower.

And yet, Republicans might give Trump’s defense policy ideas more of a hearing than they deserve because of their persistent debt fears. After all, it’s mainstream GOP economic thought that U.S. finances are precarious. How could they not be given the $19 trillion federal debt — $22 trillion if you include state and local government? These are figures Trump always mentions, as do many Republican politicians. They provide handy justification for arguing we can’t afford to invest in science, repair and upgrade our infrastructure, or bolster wages for low-income workers.

But here’s the thing: The U.S. is far from a poor nation. American households entered 2016 with a net worth of nearly $87 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. To put that ginormous number in some context, China’s private wealth has been estimated at $23 trillion. Even if you factor in America’s debt-laden public sector and China’s large state-owned companies, the U.S. still has a $45 trillion wealth edge.

There are other ways of looking at national wealth that also show America’s riches. The value of U.S. intellectual capital has been estimated at around $9 trillion, with the value of the intangible assets — such as patents, copyrights, and general business methods — at nearly $15 trillion. And given Trump’s appreciation of brands — he generously values his own at $3 billion — you would think the businessman would appreciate America’s, which has been valued at close to $20 trillion.

Maybe all this wealth is one reason global financial markets don’t seem so worried about the U.S. debt. Well, that and the U.S. tax burden being one of the lowest in the developed world. The dollar is strong, and interest rates are low, as are inflation expectations. None of this is to say the U.S. should be a spendthrift in either defense or social spending. Without entitlement reform, Medicare and Social Security will require massive tax increases to keep their promises. Yet Trump would leave them untouched, vowing implausibly to fix their fiscal problems through higher economic growth alone.

The U.S. isn’t bankrupt. Our pockets aren’t empty. We aren’t a pauper nation.

But, of course, you can’t promise to make America great again without arguing that it currently isn’t.

 

By: James Pethokoukis, The Week, March 23, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Terrorists And Their Privacy”: Do Tech Company Profits Trump National Security?

One inevitable sequel to a terrorist attack is seeing the ugly mugs of creeps-turned-monsters thrust before us over a multitude of news cycles. Another is a debate over cellphone encryption.

Encryption is a means of turning information into secret code. Terrorists communicate through encrypted devices to hide their plans and protect the identities of their co-conspirators. For obvious reasons, law enforcement wants to know what’s being said and to whom.

The FBI had been demanding that Apple turn over an encryption key to crack the iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple has refused, arguing that helping the FBI hack Farook’s iPhone would put the privacy of other iPhone users in jeopardy. That would be bad for business.

Apple’s case has always been morally and legally flawed, but now it may be moot. That’s because on the very day of the terrorist outrage in Brussels, the Justice Department announced it may now be able to get at the information in Farook’s iPhone without Apple’s input.

An unidentified third party has reportedly found a way to hack the phone. That method is being tested to ensure that it doesn’t destroy the valuable data in the process.

If it succeeds, Apple will have lost in three ways. No. 1: Consumers are no longer assured that iPhone data is invulnerable. No. 2: By forcing others to find a means of cracking an iPhone, Apple loses control over the process. And No. 3: Apple is left with having fought the bad fight.

All that goodwill Apple has amassed for its wonderful products could start draining away as Americans wonder what side it’s on. The rampage in San Bernardino took 14 lives and grievously injured 22 others. Survivors and relatives of the dead have protested Apple’s defense of a mass murderer’s cellphone data. That’s definitely bad for business.

Suppose Belgian investigators cleaning up the body parts came across an encrypted iPhone of a terrorist impressed by Apple’s promise of privacy. Would Apple refuse to help uncover accomplices in that bloodbath, as well?

Some argue that Farook’s iPhone 5c is easier to crack than the newer iPhones. Does Apple now want to bet that hacking the iPhone 6 or a later model can’t be done by a highly talented geek?

The Justice Department’s legal basis for requiring Apple to unlock an encrypted device is the 1789 All Writs Act. The law applies only if compliance is not an unreasonable burden. Apple claims invading Farook’s iPhone would be “unreasonably burdensome.”

With a search warrant based on probable cause, law enforcement may barge into your home, break into your metal file cabinets and look in your underwear drawer. (For further information, consult some “Law & Order” reruns.)

One’s cellphone is not a sacred space. Mobile phone users worried that police doing a warranted search might come across their third-grader’s math scores or a prescription for Viagra should not put such data onto their gadget in the first place.

The concern in Apple’s boardroom and elsewhere in the Silicon Valley is that governments less constrained by civil liberties than ours would demand the key to breaking the encryption. They already do, but that’s between the companies and the other countries. It’s really not the American public’s problem — unless you want to argue that tech company profits trump national security.

Apple’s position was insupportable. Now it may be irrelevant. A wise move for those in the tech industry would be to quietly work out some accommodation with law enforcement in the halls of Congress. Rest assured, they won’t want to hold such discussions in the heat of another, even more devastating terrorist attack.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Apple, Cell Phone Encryption, National Security, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Changing The Electoral Dynamic”: The Unexpected Political Impact Of Terrorist Violence

Early this morning, as many Americans were just learning about this morning’s deadly terrorist violence in Brussels, Politico’s Blake Hounshell noted on Twitter, “America may be one major terrorist attack away from Donald Trump as president.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes responded soon after that it’s a scenario that keeps him up at night.

This line of thought is not at all uncommon: in a general election, Trump, burdened by broad unpopularity, would start the race as an underdog, but many analyses have concluded that he could win the presidency anyway if voters are sufficiently terrified. It feeds into a conventional wisdom that suggest Republicans benefit politically in the wake of terrorism, and Trump specifically benefits even more.

But the conventional wisdom may not be entirely correct. Yes, Trump has seen a boost in GOP support after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, but extrapolating to a national audience is a different story. I’m reminded of this Washington Post/ABC News poll we discussed around Thanksgiving – after the Paris attacks and when Americans were increasingly panicked about refugees.

A crescendo of tough talk on Syrian refugees and terrorism seems to be elevating the toughest talkers in the GOP primary – most notably Donald Trump. But among the broader American public, the most trusted person to handle the issue is Hillary Clinton. […]

By 50 percent to 42 percent, more Americans say they trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump, who leads the Republican field and responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by calling for heightened surveillance of mosques and redoubling his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.

Clinton’s eight-point advantage over Trump wasn’t unique: the same poll showed the Democratic frontrunner also leading the other GOP contenders when respondents were asked, “Who would you trust more to handle the threat of terrorism?”

It’s not the only data available on this. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted this morning, “A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that only 30 percent of Americans think Trump is ‘ready to be Commander in Chief,’ while 60 percent say he isn’t. For Hillary Clinton, those numbers are 46-45.”

As we discussed several months ago, Democrats may be at a perceived disadvantage on matters related to national security generally, but Clinton, if she’s the Democratic nominee, will have more foreign-policy experience than any other presidential candidate in a generation. All of the remaining Republican candidates are either literal or practical amateurs on international affairs.

If the question is one of preparedness, it’s a test the former Secretary of State passes easily.

All of this matters, of course, because of the degree to which it challenges preconceived ideas about which issues benefit which parties. Republicans widely believe they benefit most when elections focus on the issues where they’re strongest: national security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism, etc. Just so long as voters overlook their discredited ideas and track record of foreign-policy failure – and in Trump’s case, the fact that he’s painfully clueless – GOP officials are certain they’re on firmer ground when voters’ attention moves away from the economy, health care, education, and the environment.

But there’s some evidence that suggests Clinton’s resume is unique, and with her background comes an ability to speak with authority on an issue Republicans claim as their own. It changes the electoral dynamic in ways the political world may not have fully digested yet.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, National Security, Terrorist Attacks | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Global Brainless Trust”: Donald Trump’s New Foreign Policy Advisers Are As Rotten As His Steaks

A Christian academic accused of inciting violence against Muslims. A former Pentagon official who blocked investigations into Bush administration bigwigs. And an assortment of self-professed experts probably few in established foreign policy circles have ever heard of. These are the minds advising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on foreign policy and national security.

Trump, who has been pressed for months to name his council of advisers, revealed five in a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board on Tuesday: Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares, and Joseph E. Schmitz.

Few of these names will register with most voters, or many experts in Washington. None of them are especially sought after for foreign policy views and national security expertise in the nation’s capital—which may be why they’re attractive to Trump.

Trump revealed little about what specific advice they’d given so far, or how any of them may have shaped Trump’s surprising new position that the U.S. should rethink whether it needs to remain in the seven-decades-old NATO alliance with Europe.

Sounding more like a CFO than a commander-in-chief, Trump said of the alliance, “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” adding, “NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

U.S. officials, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said that European allies have to shoulder a bigger burden of NATO’s cost. But calling for the possible U.S. withdrawal from the treaty is a radical departure for a presidential candidate—even a candidate who has been endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It also wasn’t clear how Trump’s arguably anti-interventionist position on the alliance squared with his choice of advisers. The most well-known among them is Phares, a politically conservative academic who has accused President Obama of “appeasement” toward radical Muslim terrorists and called for more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

To his detractors, Phares is a rare combination of lightning rod and dog whistle. His various claims about a creeping, underappreciated jihadi “apocalypse” against the West will find quarter with Trump’s broad suspicion of Muslims and his call to ban foreign Muslims from entering the U.S.

In a 2008 essay in the conservative Human Events, Phares warned that in the following four years, “Jihadists may recruit one million suicide bombers” and that by 2016, they would have 10 million and “seize five regimes equipped with the final weapon,” referring to nuclear weapons.

This isn’t Phares’s first time as a presidential adviser. As The Daily Beast reported in 2011, Phares’s work co-chairing the Middle East policy team for then-GOP candidate Mitt Romney—who has recently vowed to fight against Trump’s nomination—prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to call on the candidate to ditch Phares, whom it called “an associate to war crimes” and a “conspiracy theorist,” citing his ties to a violent anti-Muslim militia.

Mother Jones reported that in the 1980s Phares, a Christian who was then active in Lebanese political groups, trained militants in ideological beliefs to justify a war on Muslim and Druze factions, prompting a former CIA official to question why a man with ties to foreign political organizations was advising a U.S. presidential candidate.

Phares has his supporters, chiefly in neoconservative foreign policy circles and among conservative pundits and analysts. But those connections drew scrutiny in 2012 when the group Media Matters for America alleged that Phares’s connections to the Romney campaign weren’t properly identified when Phares was working as a consultant for Fox News.

Another Trump adviser, Schmitz, has served in government, as the Defense Department inspector general. Schmitz was brought in during the first term of President George W. Bush with a mandate to reform the watchdog office, but he eventually found himself the subject of scrutiny.

“Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines,” according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times in 2005. Current and former colleagues described him as “an intelligent but easily distracted leader who seemed to obsess over details,” including the hiring of a speechwriter and designs for a bathroom.

Schmitz also raised eyebrows for what the paper’s sources described as his “unusual” fascination with Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, a Revolutionary War hero who’s regarded as the military’s first inspector general. Schmitz reportedly replaced the Defense Department IG’s seal in its office across the country with a new one bearing the Von Steuben family motto, Sub Tutela Altissimi Semper, “under the protection of the Almighty always.”

 

By: Shane Harris, The Daily Beast, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Donald The Dangerous”: Heartbreaking Prospect That America’s Next Commander In Chief May Be A Global Joke

Is there any scarier nightmare than President Donald J. Trump in a tense international crisis, indignant and impatient, with his sweaty finger on the nuclear trigger?

“Trump is a danger to our national security,” John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to the State Department under President George W. Bush, bluntly warned.

Most of the discussion about Trump focuses on domestic policy. But checks and balances mean that there are limits to what a president can achieve domestically, while the Constitution gives a commander in chief a much freer hand abroad.

That’s what horrifies America-watchers overseas. Der Spiegel, the German magazine, has called Trump the most dangerous man in the world. Even the leader of a Swedish nationalist party that started as a neo-Nazi white supremacist group has disavowed Trump. J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, reflected the views of many Britons when she tweeted that Trump is worse than Voldemort.

Leading American conservative thinkers on foreign policy issued an open letter a few days ago warning that they could not support Trump. The signatories include Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of homeland security, Robert Zoellick, the former deputy secretary of state, and more than 100 others.

“Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe,” the letter declared.

A starting point is Trump’s remarkable ignorance about international affairs. And every time he tries to reassure, he digs the hole deeper. Asked in the latest debate to name people whose foreign policy ideas he respects, Trump offered Gen. Jack Keane, and mispronounced his name.

Asked about Syria, Trump said last year that he would unleash ISIS to destroy Syria’s government. That is insane: ISIS is already murdering or enslaving Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities; executing gays; destroying antiquities; oppressing women. And Trump wants ISIS to capture Damascus?

A second major concern is that Trump would start a trade war, or a real war. Trump told The New York Times in January that he favored a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, then denied ever having said such a thing. The Times produced the audio (that part of the conversation was on the record) in which Trump clearly backed the 45 percent tariff, risking a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump has also called for more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, and raised the prospect of bombing North Korean nuclear sites. A poorly informed, impatient and pugnacious leader can cause devastation, and that’s true of either Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump.

The third risk is to America’s reputation and soft power. Both Bush and President Obama worked hard to reassure the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. Trump has pretty much declared war on all Muslims.

The damage to America’s image is already done, even if Trump is never elected. Simply as a blowhard who gains headlines around the world, he reinforces caricatures of the United States and tarnishes our global reputation. He turns America into an object of derision. He is America’s Ahmadinejad.

On Twitter, I suggested that Trump was pugnacious, pugilistic, preening and puerile, and asked for other P words to describe him. The result was a deluge: petulant, pandering, pathetic, peevish, prickly, pernicious, patronizing, Pantagruelian, prevaricating, phony, presumptuous, potty-mouthed, provocative, pompous, predatory and so many more, including the troubling “probably president.”

There’s something heartbreaking about the prospect that America’s next commander in chief may be a global joke, a man regarded in most foreign capitals as a buffoon, and a dangerous one.

Trump is not particularly ideological, and it’s possible that as president he would surround himself with experts and would back off extreme positions. It was a good sign that on Friday he appeared to reverse himself and pledged that he would not order the U.S. military to commit war crimes, yet that’s such an astonishingly low bar that I can’t believe I just wrote this sentence!

In any case, Trump is nothing if not unpredictable, and it seems equally plausible that he would start new wars. It’s a risk that few sensible people want to take. As Mitt Romney notes, “This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who was a national security official in the Bush White House, noted that most Republicans are united in believing that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have damaged the United States and added to the burdens of the next president.

“Yet what Trump promises to do would in some important ways make all of the problems we face dramatically worse,” he told me. “Why, at a moment when the country desperately needs our A-team, would we send in the clowns?”

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 5, 2016

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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