Washington Merry-Go-Round

Patriotism and the presidency

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 6 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Patriotism and the presidency

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The first prerequisite for any U.S. president is patriotism, that one simple, overused word that means a person has the best interests of the nation in his or her thoughts. Put another way, it means the person places the safety, security, and welfare of the nation above all other nations.

Past presidents, vice presidents, and candidates for those offices have had their biases. John Adams favored Britain over France. Thomas Jefferson, an avowed Francophile, favored the reverse.

In a letter dated June 7, 1797, French Consul General Philippe-Henry-Joseph de Létombe claimed Vice President Jefferson told him: “Mr. Adams [the U.S. president] is vain, suspicious, and stubborn, of an excessive self-regard, taking counsel with nobody . . . . But his presidency will only last five years [sic]; he is only president by three [Electoral College] votes . . . . It is for France [Jefferson said], great, generous, at the summit of her glory, to pretend to take no notice, to be patient, to precipitate nothing, and all will return to order. . . . drag out the negotiations at length, and mollify them by the urbanity of the proceedings.”

We cannot know if Jefferson actually said such things. We do know the sentiments were correct as Jefferson confirmed in his March 21, 1798, letter to James Madison: “As to do nothing, and to gain time, is everything with us [Democratic-Republicans], I propose that they [Congress] shall come to a resolution of adjournment ‘in order to go home and consult their constituents on the great crisis of American affairs now existing.’ Besides gaining time enough by this to allow the descent [Napoleon’s invasion, which was soon called off as impractical because Britannia ruled the seas] on England to have its effect here as well as there, it will be a means of exciting the whole body of people . . .”

Less than a month later, President Adams exposed the XYZ Affair, a French attempt to demand a bribe from U.S. envoys who were in Paris to address French dissatisfaction with the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain that had tilted U.S. policy away from France.

Two years later, Jefferson barely defeated Aaron Burr for the presidency. Burr became Jefferson’s vice president and was later accused of attempting to set up an independent empire west of the Mississippi River.

As the decades passed, other presidents would foment or initiate wars, including the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Second Gulf War. Even America’s entry into World War II was pushed along by President Franklin Roosevelt, who understood strict neutrality would have doomed Great Britain to defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Yet, except for Burr, who was a near rather than a sitting president, no president or vice president intentionally acted to undermine the nation, although some of their actions did so. They did not aid and abet an enemy, although in some cases their actions created enemies. They did stretch the limits of executive power to choose sides.

Today, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is clearly an opponent, if not an outright foe. He continues to threaten European nations from Ukraine to the NATO-member Baltic States. He has joined forces with U.S. enemy Bashir al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War. And he has interfered with the recent U.S. presidential election. Yet, President-elect Donald Trump continues to turn a blind eye to all this and remains unrestrained in his admiration for the Russian strongman. In this, Trump is not choosing sides between foreign nations, he is choosing sides between the United States and Russia. And in this he is unique among American presidents.

 

          Find Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4: Nine Scenarios” (endorsed by seven flag officers) and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency” at: http://douglascohn.com/

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2017s U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Devolution of America

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Devolution of America

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Before the election, conventional wisdom had the GOP coming apart, had the Tea Party at war with traditional Republicans, and had fiscal hawks battling social conservatives.

After the election, it was the Democratic Party coming apart, losing an election to a reality TV star and losing touch with blue-collar white voters, once the core of Democratic support.

Both parties face challenges, but the analysis needs tweaking. It’s not the parties coming apart as much as it is the basic underpinnings of government being questioned and tested.

Once Donald Trump is sworn in later this month, Washington will be fully in the hands of the Republican Party. In theory, at least, that should bring an end to the gridlock that plagued Democrats for much of President Obama’s time in office.

Republicans have the numbers in the House and Senate to muster majorities for pretty much whatever they want. If Democrats put up too many roadblocks, GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could employ what lawmakers call the nuclear option, and declare the filibuster dead for legislation and Supreme Court nominees.

Democratic leader Harry Reid employed the nuclear option for executive appointments and judges, except for the Supreme Court, which helped Obama get some judges through, and will help Trump get some of his more controversial Cabinet nominees confirmed with 50 votes (the Republican vice president breaks ties) instead of 60.

And with the GOP Congress eager to make good on its pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, you would think McConnell might move to strike the 60-vote threshold so Republicans could act quickly and have legislation ready for Trump to sign on his first day in office.

Instead, McConnell in a terse and tight-lipped statement stated the partisan-ignored obvious: no majorities last forever on either side of the aisle, and that Republicans want to work with Democrats to achieve bipartisan compromises on replacing Obamacare and other issues.

But Democrats are not eager to work with Republicans on dismantling Obamacare unless the GOP can come up with a satisfactory replacement. In six years of battling Obamacare, Republicans have not been able to agree on such a replacement, and it’s unlikely they will find one that keeps the parts of Obamacare people like, and that keeps costs down.

Republican talk is not matched by its weak leadership. Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisc.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) only learned of a revolt within the GOP caucus when it happened behind closed doors on Monday evening. A group of lawmakers advanced a proposal to eliminate an independent bipartisan office that oversees ethics violations by lawmakers.

Ryan and McCarthy opposed the measure, but when they couldn’t squelch it and members were poised to vote on it the next day, the two leaders caved. McCarthy was all over television Tuesday morning defending the elimination of the office as making the process more efficient and transparent, which was a real stretch.

Then Trump weighed in with a tweet, observing that Congress should have better things to do on its first day. In about the time you can say. “Drain the swamp,” Ryan and McCarthy reversed course, and Republicans joined with Democrats to vote down the proposed change.

Trump’s election has blown up the two-party system. Many lawmakers are not sure of what they stand for, except winning, and we’re just beginning to understand the consequences.

This is a leadership vacuum, and vacuums get filled.

In California, where Hillary Clinton beat Trump by millions of votes, former Attorney General Eric Holder has signed on to represent the state in what local officials expect will be many confrontations with the federal government over climate change, immigration and marijuana legalization.

Going it alone, state by state, lawmaker by lawmaker, is what happens when there is weak leadership in Washington, and when the two parties are seeking to re-define themselves in the age of Trump. This is not secession; this is the pendulum of federalism. This is devolution.

 

          Find Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4: Nine Scenarios” (endorsed by seven flag officers) and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency” at: http://douglascohn.com/

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Obama’s gift to Trump: increased executive power

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 29 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Obama’s gift to Trump: increased executive power

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Thanks to President Obama, President-elect Trump is going to inherit the most powerful executive branch in modern times. It is not what Obama intended, although he would have felt fine about it had Hillary Clinton won the election.

Obama strengthened the presidency through his use of executive powers. The Republicans stopped Obama from going the conventional route of legislation by blocking any Obama initiative that mattered from getting through Congress.

That resulted in Obama handing Trump a gift – a greatly strengthened executive branch – and that’s a dangerous thing.

It opens the door more widely for Trump to exert power, plus he will have the intelligence agencies, the FBI and the CIA, working for him together with the IRS.

In the modern history of the presidency, from Eisenhower to Kennedy and forward (Richard Nixon being the exception), the incoming and outgoing presidents were mainstream leaders with a respect for government and the agencies entrusted with the American people’s security. Their partisan impulses differed, but for the most part, the people they put in place in their government, and appointed to their Cabinet, fell within the parameters of established political norms.

Maybe it’s time to shake things up. That’s certainly the message the voters sent. But when you look at the people Trump is appointing to carry out critical tasks, many have no governing or diplomatic experience and they can fairly be labeled zealots.

It’s also fair to say that Trump has shown a tendency toward vindictiveness. He can’t let things go, and he’s prone to popping off in a tweet.

So, once he’s in office and feels like popping off, he will have powerful tools at his disposal. By not even giving a hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, the Republican-controlled Senate empowered the incoming president, who will get the opportunity to shape the political leanings of the Court for two generations.

FDR must be turning over in his grave. When he tried to pack the Court with jurists sympathetic to what he was attempting with his New Deal, he got brushed back. Trump has an open playing field.

And with a compliant Republican House, Trump could have an impeachment proof presidency (The House impeaches a president and sends the case to the Senate for trial). As he boasted during the campaign, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still back him.

Soldiers in combat tell themselves if it’s possible, assume it will happen. That way you’re ready. Preparing for Trump, that same advice applies.

Would he abuse the intelligence agencies? Would he direct the IRS to give himself favored treatment? Would he use the IRS to harass his enemies?

His charitable foundation is reportedly under investigation by the IRS. How long do we think that will last? Will there be any punishment for skirting the law?

He has used his foundation to settle lawsuits and purchase portraits of himself. He’s already stretched the rules. And we’ve never seen his tax returns. We will never see his tax returns. Get used to it, his supporters say.

In public surveys, the IRS is the most feared agency. Their motto seems to be guilty until proven innocent. President Nixon used the IRS to go after his political enemies and was forced to resign for that and many other abuses. Surely Trump knows better.

The problem is that Trump has gotten away with so much that would have destroyed any other candidate or president for that matter, he is not deterred. He is emboldened.

Nixon initially defended himself saying if a president does it, it’s legal. Trump tried that too, saying a president can’t have a conflict of interest. Nixon then tried to deny his role in any wrongdoing. That didn’t work either.

Trump just doubles down, daring anyone to defy him. When everyone in power is a Republican, the checks and balances the Founding Fathers gave us may not be enough to curb Trump.

 

          Find Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4: Nine Scenarios” (endorsed by seven flag officers) and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency” at: http://douglascohn.com/

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Safety vs. liberty

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 21 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Safety vs. liberty

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The Christmas market attack in Berlin is forcing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to confront the age-old choice between public safety and individual rights.  Because of Germany’s particular history with secret police spying on its citizens, there are not surveillance cameras in highly trafficked areas as there are in London, or here in the United States.

It’s one of the first changes German leaders are advocating after a 24-year-old Tunisian man rammed a vehicle into the market killing and injuring numerous people who were out enjoying the holiday season.

Even so, one of the proprietors of the Christmas market questioned the need for cameras, saying they would not prevent somebody with evil intent. Maybe so, but they would make it a whole lot easier to track down the perpetrator. As of this writing, German police are still in the midst of a countrywide manhunt.

The first obligation of government is to provide for the public safety, and in the aftermath of an attack, there can be a tendency to go overboard. Some of the steps the Bush White House took after the 9/11 attacks were taken without legal authority, and were later rescinded or amended during the Obama administration.

And everyone recognizes that the internment camps set up during World War II to sequester Japanese Americans were an overreach by government, and a stain on the values that America represents.

Likewise, Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War was seen as an assault on the Constitution.

But the pendulum swings in synch with the frequency and magnitude of horrific events. Chancellor Merkel’s challenge is to find steps she can take to reassure the German public she understands this, that she understands the threat Islamic extremists pose not only to her country, but throughout Europe and the world.

She recently called for a ban on full-face religious head coverings in Germany, which was reported as a concession to the right-wing parties gaining new converts in Germany and throughout Europe. Such parties would rely upon increasingly authoritarian governments to combat terrorism – either that or they would use terrorism as an excuse to assert their dominance, thereby posing a threat as great or worse than the foes they would fight.

Even so, the far right will continue to push the center and left parties, and Merkel and her colleagues in Europe must respond. Already, they are seeking to contain the impact of increased immigration and refugee flows stemming from the civil war in Syria. Authorities have given up the dream of open travel between the countries of Europe and are returning to the border checks they thought were a thing of the past.

Europe doesn’t have a Fourth Amendment like we do to guard against search and seizure, but they have laws to protect their citizens. Those laws don’t apply to people applying for citizenship, who lawfully can be subjected to more scrutiny. They don’t apply to the Tunisian man thought to be responsible for the Christmas market attack. He had been rejected for asylum in Germany, yet his country of origin refused to take him back, leaving him in the kind of limbo where it is legitimate for intelligence services to monitor him.

President Obama in summing up his eight years in office takes pride in the fact that no foreign terrorist organization has executed an attack on the homeland from outside the United States, “and that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried,” he says.

We don’t know how many attacks were interrupted, and we don’t know to what degree constitutional niceties may have been abridged.

President-elect Trump called the Christmas market an attack on all humanity, and says this has to stop – but how?

During the campaign, he welcomed the involvement of Russia in Syria, and he also attacked Obama for not taking the rise of ISIS seriously, and not doing enough to combat the terror group.

Soon Trump will have to find his own balance between security and liberty, and given his blustery rhetoric, the expectation is that he will move the pendulum more toward security. But like Obama, he too will find himself a hostage to events.

 

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The Ayn Rand Cabinet

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 15 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Ayn Rand Cabinet

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – So far there are three prospective members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet who are admirers of Ayn Rand, and so is Donald Trump. He sees himself replacing Gary Cooper as the lead character in the movie version of Rand’s bestselling work, “The Fountainhead”.

For followers of Rand, and they were legion back in the day, the handsome and rugged Cooper embodied the swashbuckling architect who ruthlessly blows up a project that doesn’t measure up to his exacting requirements.

If anyone wondered what governing philosophy Trump would bring to the White House, it starts with Rand’s core belief in unbridled capitalism. The self is all that matters. Get government out of business and business will thrive. And if business thrives, all is well in the pursuit of happiness. She was not her brother’s keeper, but in old age she relied upon Medicare and accepted Social Security.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a tall, silver-haired Texan, bonded with Trump over a shared reverence for Rand. Tillerson, more than Trump, could step into Gary Cooper’s shoes as though a casting agent sent him. Trump is dazzled by appearances, and when he first met Tillerson, he said he was in a whole different league than the other contenders he interviewed to become his secretary of State.

Anyone who can leave Mitt Romney in the dust when it comes to looking the part of a diplomat must be someone special. All Tillerson needs is someone with the cult-like influence of Rand to testify at his confirmation hearing that what’s good for ExxonMobil must be good for the United States.

Never have we seen a Cabinet so representative of the libertarian, laissez-faire philosophy Rand championed. For those who didn’t vote for Trump, it’s a shock to know that the regulatory state President Obama promulgated in an effort to even the playing field for Americans outside the corporate class could be coming to an abrupt end.

Incoming Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder is an outspoken follower of Rand, and has been quoted saying that “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” are required reading for his six children. Puzder, too, is like a character out of a Rand book in his self-interested opposition to raising the minimum wage. He is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., fast food chains that employee thousands of low-wage workers.

Rounding out the trio of Randians is Mike Pompeo Rep. R-Kans., who Trump named to head the CIA. He has said that reading Rand inspired him. Maybe it will help him navigate the labyrinthine corridors of power in the world of spies.

Once upon a time Rand captivated a lot of young men, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan who was part of her inner circle of devotees in the 1950’s. They were known as the Ayn Rand Collective. Greenspan read “Atlas Shrugged” while it was being written, adopting her philosophy of objectivism.

Objectivism is described as a philosophy of rational individualism. The ideal man, in Rand’s view, is one who “lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the underserved, who honors achievement and rejects envy.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., was once an outspoken fan of Rand, giving her books to everyone who worked for him, including interns. But in recent interviews, he’s acted surprised that anyone would think he was a follower, even dismissing his earlier association as an urban legend.

As the Christian Coalition and other right-leaning religious groups gained dominance in the Republican Party, Ryan’s ardor for Rand evidently cooled. She was after all an atheist.

In Trump’s Cabinet, capitalism is the new religion.

 

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

His name is Conflict-of-Interest

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

His name is Conflict-of-Interest

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It is a raw exercise of Robber Baron power. Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil is being nominated for secretary of State by President-elect Donald Trump. His name is Conflict-of-Interest. The man, a personal friend of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, has received an award from Russia, and his company has significant business dealings with that nation as well as with other countries led by even more unsavory characters.

Prominent and powerful Republican senators have already voiced their misgivings about this lamentable nomination, yet Trump went ahead anyway, appearing at first glance to be following his normal modus operandi of doubling down. In fact, it is far more nefarious.

The oil and gas industry, of which ExxonMobil is the largest player, is a large benefactor to many, if not most, politicians, and it is clear that Trump is counting on that generous largess to overcome Senate confirmation problems. All assumptions must be put aside. Only a handful of Republican votes are needed to join with Democratic votes to achieve Senate rejection, but those few cannot be guaranteed. And Democratic senators can no longer be expected to unanimously oppose Tillerson, because neither they nor their Republican brethren are immune to the need for political donations, including the financing of their all-important political action committees (PACs). At least, this must be what is behind Trump’s apparently pointless move.

This is the titanic struggle that is about to begin out of earshot, out of eyesight of the American public. Arrayed in this battle will be the power of money vs. the power of public office and the patriotism and fortitude that underlie it.

The nation has never witnessed anything like it. The original Robber Barons used their wealth to influence Congress and the Cabinet, and there were scandals, notably the Teapot Dome Scandal over oil leases in 1921-22. But these were domestic in nature. Now we have an oil baron with ties to an unfriendly foreign government being nominated for the most important position in the Cabinet.

Such a scenario tempts the raising of myriad conspiracy theories, but there is no need to go trolling in those waters when the bevy on the surface is so blatant.

True, we could believe that Trump selected a person devoid of any governmental or diplomatic experience to be the nation’s chief diplomat specifically because he is so close and familiar with Putin. We could believe that he expects to be confirmed by the Senate solely upon his persuasive testimony and not his money. We could believe that if confirmed he will act in opposition to his own and his company’s financial interests. Yes, we could believe these things. Or as a person caught in a compromising position might say, “Do you believe what you think you saw or what I am telling you?”

The better questions are: Why would Trump name such a conflicted and compromised person to such a position, and why would such a person want such a position and all the scrutiny that comes with the effort? Why?

 

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Electoral possibilities may trump probabilities

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Electoral possibilities may trump probabilities

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – On December 19th the 538 presidential electors will remain in their home states where 306 of them will cast their votes, most likely for Donald Trump – but not necessarily. There are even some laws mandating that they vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote, but such requirements are no more constitutional than if they applied to senators and representatives. So-called faithless electors are free to vote as they wish. So, here are a few unlikely, but alternate, scenarios that could peel 37 votes away from Trump and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state is allotted just one vote for this purpose:

  1. The House must choose the president from the top three electoral vote winners when no candidate wins the required 270-vote majority, and there is already a move afoot to persuade electors from Trump states to coalesce around another candidate. It is safe to say their candidate will not be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee they all oppose. Texas elector Christopher Suprun has announced he will defy his state’s choice of Trump and vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has rejected the idea. If he can persuade 36 other Trump electors to do likewise, the Republican-dominated House will decide and presumably opt for the more mainstream candidate.
  2. Two Colorado Clinton electors, Polly Baca and Robert Nemanich, have sued in Federal court to overturn their state’s faithless elector law so they can join with fellow faithless Democrats and Republicans to elect a moderate Republican. In fact, they need not have filed the suit. They could simply vote as they wish and let the State of Colorado try to enforce its unconstitutional law after the fact. In any event, their plan cannot work unless 37 Republican electors join them
  3. Focusing on those 37 Trump electors conjures up another strange, but viable, solution. Neither the Republican nor Democratic electors are unified, but for these purposes only the disunity of the former matters. Among the Republican electors are firm Trump supporters, but also those who think he is too liberal, too conservative, too unqualified, or too extreme. This “Scenario of Toos” would witness the opposite of coalescing. The 37 “Toos” would vote as they please, with the result that perhaps 10 more candidates are suddenly and unexpectedly brought into the mix. Let us say that seven of these additional candidates receive three electoral votes each, two of them receive four votes, and another garners eight votes. The eight-vote candidate would come in third in the electoral vote-count and would then be presented along with Trump and Clinton to the House of Representatives. Let us further say that this third-place candidate is someone such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Odds are he would win in the House vote.
  4. In a variation on Scenario 3, faithless Democratic electors would join with the 37 faithless Republican electors to alter the third-place contest. In this way one of those new Republican candidates with three electoral votes could receive six or seven Democratic electors’ votes and become the third candidate presented to the House.

Is any of this possible? Yes. Probable? No. But in this most unusual year in America’s political history, possible has repeatedly trumped probable.

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The Russian bear is a paper tiger

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 9 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Russian bear is a paper tiger

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – During the campaign, Donald Trump often spoke admiringly about Russian President Putin, citing his strength as a leader and how Putin has out-maneuvered President Obama in Syria, where Russian-backed government forces are gaining ground in the years-long conflict. Putin was one of the first world leaders to call Trump to congratulate him after last month’s election.

More than almost anything, Putin craves respect on the world stage for himself and for the former super power he heads. That is all well and good except the key word is “former.”

Trump is treating Putin like a co-equal in the pecking order when Russia is a country teetering on the edge of economic ruin with a military that in no way is comparable to the United States’ armed forces. By courting Putin to the extent he has, Trump perpetuates the myth of the plundering and menacing Russian bear.

Trump is not alone in elevating the image of Russia’s dominance. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney declared Russia the greatest existential threat America faced. Romney looked prescient when Putin went into Crimea and seized that part of Ukraine. And when it appeared that Putin might make a move on the Baltic states, NATO troops upped their presence in the three former Soviet republics to counter Putin’s threats.

In fact, Putin’s military provocations outside Russia on the international stage help distract Russian citizens from their economic troubles. The country is dependent on its oil exports, and with oil prices in a long decline, that has hurt the standard of living in Russia.

Russia has limited capability to correct its precarious economic situation. Although it is the largest oil exporter in the world, it is not part of OPEC oil cartel. When Russia threatened Western Europe with cutting off its pipeline, Putin couldn’t make good on those tough words because his economy couldn’t risk losing the revenue, even for a short while to make a point.

Granted, Russia still has nuclear weapons, but so does Pakistan. And while this is part of the equation, when you weigh Russia’s overall defense posture, its military budget is lower than that of Saudi Arabia.

President Obama did the right thing when he began to redirect U.S. resources and power in the pivot to Asia. China is the threat to America’s strength in the world, not Russia. China’s economy is slowing but it is still booming, while the Russian economy is in shambles.

So, Trump is picking the wrong enemy when he flirts with starting a trade war with China while he gives Russia a free pass on its meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian hackers were behind the flood of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton campaign.

Yet Trump continues to maintain the hacker could have been China or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds.” He doubled down on that assertion in an interview with Time Magazine, which just named him “Person of the Year.”

Whatever Trump’s beliefs in the relative merits of China versus Russia, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) made its decision earlier this year when it declared the Yuan, China’s currency, one of the major world currencies, along with the dollar, the British pound, and the Euro.

Nobody is talking about the ruble, not even Putin.

Maybe the key to bringing Putin’s aggressive impulses to heel is to treat him with great respect. That’s what Trump has been doing. The danger of course is that Putin will take this show of respect as tacit permission to keep doing what he’s been doing, which is to pretend that the Russian paper tiger is still a first-rate power, and an expanding one at that.

 

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

The Law of Inverse Construction: As goes the euro, so go the EU and NATO

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 5 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The Law of Inverse Construction: As goes the euro, so go the EU and NATO

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The political crisis in Italy, marked by the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi following the country’s failure to enact constitutional reforms, has placed in doubt its continued participation in the euro and possibly the European Union (EU) and, eventually, NATO. This could prove contagious.

In this scenario, void will play upon void, beginning with the collapse of the euro, a currency built upon the erroneous concept that the nations of Europe could manage their own fiscal policies of taxation, borrowing, and spending without controlling their own monetary policies, especially the expansion and contraction of money supply. An equivalent scenario would have the world witness the United States’ Federal Reserve surrendering control of its monetary policy to the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB).

When the Great Recession of 2007–08 struck, halving the stock market and driving real estate values below mortgage balances, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke convinced a majority of the Reserve members to flood the market with electronic money in what was called quantitative easing. That action plus congressional legislation prevented a depression. However, if the ECB had been in control and instituted the opposite policy of money tightening—as it has to the chagrin of member nations with weak economies—there is no telling what financial disasters might have ensued.

The EU’s attempt to operate in a functionally inoperable system characterized by separate fiscal and monetary policies contrasted with the flexible and complex U.S. system, where a constitutionally and congressionally coerced balance between the fiscal policies of Congress and the monetary policies of the Fed interact to create a structural solution capable of lessening the depth, breadth, and duration of financial depressions, deep recessions, and panics.

It is in this context that Italy, Greece, or some other financially strapped nation, unable to meet its EU and ECB financial commitments, will first drop the euro as its currency and soon after drop out of the EU altogether, having realized that monetary and political sovereignty are too intertwined to do otherwise. True, the United Kingdom never did adopt the euro, and just as true, the United Kingdom has voted to exit the EU.

These events are certain to expose the underlying weakness of a common currency governed by a central multinational monetary body, the ECB, prompting other nations such as Spain and Portugal to follow the exit pathway, reverting to their old currencies while concurrently recreating national identities and economies of prior decades.

With the first crack in the EU having occurred, the underlying conceptual weakness in the organization and its currency are going becoming starkly apparent. And as goes the euro, so goes the EU. Currently nine of the 28 EU nations do not use the euro and the 19 others are sure to follow. Overnight, economic nationalism is going to be followed by political nationalism. Already, abandoned border checkpoints are once again being manned by border guards in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and an influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. And the vanishing dream of a united Europe will impact nations and equally affect unassimilated ethnic groups whose movements press for devolution or secession in Spain and elsewhere.

When the EU and, later, the Euro Zone (EZ) were created, it was thought these events would strengthen NATO by further unifying Europe, and, initially, this appeared to be the case. No one dreamed these very building blocks would one day be the instruments of NATO’s demise, the EU and EZ founding fathers apparently not considering that the unraveling of those entities would create a sense of disunity that could spill over, infect, and undermine the alliance. But that is precisely what could happen. It is a phenomenon of what I will call the Law of Inverse Construction: An essential building block’s benefit is asymmetrically outweighed by the repercussions from its failure or loss.

 

          This column is adapted from Douglas Cohn’s new book, “World War 4.” A discussion of Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Dignity wasn’t present

 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 1 Dec 2016

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Dignity wasn’t present

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – When you see that picture of an obsequious Mitt Romney eating crow with Donald Trump, what’s your takeaway? Who is using whom? Is Romney doing his patriotic duty by making himself available for a Cabinet position? Is Trump toying with his onetime critic, or is the president-elect seriously considering Romney for a top job?

Whatever you conclude, what is certain: Dignity wasn’t present.

Remember how John McCain sucked it up and campaigned with George W. Bush in 2000 after Bush’s minions had savaged McCain in the South Carolina primary, spreading baseless rumors that McCain had a love child, and that he had been a coward in captivity when held as a POW during the Vietnam War.

Words don’t matter, actions matter, and that’s the measure by which Trump should be judged.  It’s not hard to imagine him telling Romney that the campaign is performance art, that he was playing P.T. Barnum, giving the voters a good show, and now he was ready to get real and cast someone who looks the part to perhaps become the nation’s chief diplomat.

Then the two of them could share a laugh on how gullible American voters can be when they size up their leaders.

Trump ran as a populist, but his early appointments don’t reflect his campaign rhetoric. Former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank called it, “the biggest bait and switch since Trump University.” Trump’s nominees are mostly billionaires and millionaires, and while that doesn’t keep them from embracing populist economics, nothing in any of their resumes suggests that’s the ideology they’re most comfortable with.

In Trump’s world, words don’t matter. He will say anything to give the audience what it wants to hear. His election night speech was perfect when he promised to be the president for all the people. Days later, he made Steve Bannon his senior counselor in the White House, an appointment that signaled disunity and conflict, the opposite of the One America Trump had invoked.

Meeting with New York Times editors, reporters and columnists, Trump said there were parts of Obamacare he’d like to keep. During the campaign, he promised universal health care that would be better and cheaper than Obamacare. Then he named Georgia Congressman Tom Price to head HHS. An orthopedic surgeon by training, Price has been an outspoken foe of Obamacare, putting in bill after bill to repeal President Obama’s signature legislation.

Which is the real Donald Trump? Will he oppose Price’s demolition derby? Democrats will use whatever tools they have to resist the full dismantling of Obamacare, but if the Senate confirms Price for HHS, he will have the power to singlehandedly undermine Obamacare through regulations he can impose without seeking approval from Congress.

Lastly, Trump’s propensity to tweet whatever’s on his mind shows how little he knows about the government he’s about to lead, but how uncanny his political instincts are. He’s like a shark honing in on its prey.

When he tweeted that anybody who burned an American flag should have their citizenship taken away, or should spend a year in jail, he was parroting what a lot of Americans who voted for him were thinking about the protests in the days after the election. Perhaps like many voters, he didn’t seem to know that flag burning is protected speech, confirmed as constitutional in a 5-4 decision in 1989 that included conservative Justice Scalia in the majority.

Further, no president has the power to take away anyone’s citizenship. If Trump read the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, he would understand. Once a citizen, you’re always a citizen. Trump has a lot to learn, but so do we the people as we adjust to the many things he says, true and untrue, and do our job by calling him out when he’s playing us.

 

          A discussion of Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4,” endorsed by seven flag officers, and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency”, may be found at:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?414121-1/presidents-first-year-world-war-4 or by typing “C-SPAN” and “Cohn”

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND