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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Greece’s European Identity Is at Stake - Greece’s history is filled with major disasters and impressive recoveries

From The Wall Street Journal:

The history of Greece is filled with major disasters and impressive recoveries. Even its birth in 1832 was a triumph over the odds, assisted by the decision of the U.K. and France to come to the rescue of an independence movement on the brink of defeat. Greece then spent half the years until 2006 in default, having had to restructure its debts six times. Yet despite its many setbacks and notwithstanding its present predicament, it is arguably the most successful state to emerge out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and has proved a beacon of prosperity and stability compared with the rest of the Balkans.

This success partly reflects the unique hold Greece has on the European imagination, which secured it vital support at critical moments in its history. For the rest of Europe, Greece is more than a country: it represents an idea, a reflection of the common roots of a shared civilization, a beacon of liberty, a symbol of resistance.

But Greece’s success is also due to the long-standing determination of Greeks to place their country firmly among the family of Western European nations, an unlikely ambition that dates from the earliest days of a Greek independence movement led by intellectual emigres in Western Europe and which extended to the bold decisions to join the European Economic Community soon after the collapse of the military regime in the 1970s and adopt the euro in 2001, a year after its launch.

It is Greece’s European identity that is at stake in the referendum that the government has decided to call for July 5. Although the question on the ballot will be whether voters want the government to accept or reject the terms of the bailout deal submitted by the creditors last week, the real question at stake is whether Greece wishes to remain a member of the eurozone.

That’s because a “no” vote would set in train a series of events including government default, bank collapses and non-payment of salaries and pensions that would force Athens to introduce a parallel currency. And since there is currently no legal way of exiting the eurozone without quitting the European Union too, a “no” vote in the referendum could also put at stake Greece’s membership in the EU.

With hindsight, Greece’s decision to join the euro was ambitious, perhaps recklessly so. Euro membership was a bet that the disciplines required to belong to the single currency would help bring about the modernization of the Greek state and the liberalization of its economy, said Stathis Kalyvas, a professor of political science at Yale University and author of a new book titled “Modern Greece”.

But this never happened during the boom years and despite the best efforts of Greece’s creditors, nor has it happened during five years of depression. Powerful vested interests have prevented the overhaul of Greece’s dysfunctional political and bureaucratic systems, forcing Athens to rely on poorly designed tax rises and spending cuts to balance its books. The result was the January election of the far-left Syriza party on a platform of opposition to austerity but which has in practice sought to defend the clientelist public sector.

If voters now follow the advice of Syriza and its allies in the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party in voting “no” in the referendum, Greece is likely to extend its series of disasters.

After a “no” vote, there would be no chance of any new eurozone funding deal for Athens, forcing it to default on its debts and leaving it unable to pay salaries and pensions. The banks, which have been forced to close after the European Central Bank refused to allow them access to further emergency funding, would soon be declared insolvent and would have to be recapitalized before they could open their doors again, which would in practice require the government to print its own currency.

Nothing that the government has done in the past five months suggests that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his colleagues have the administrative skills to execute such a complex operation, let alone deliver the deep budget cuts and major overhauls that would be needed before Greece could once again expect to start borrowing from financial markets in its own currency.

In the interim, the damage inflicted on the economy is likely to be deep. Given the high levels of cash-based work in Greece’s black economy, particularly among vulnerable migrants, a political and economic crisis could quickly develop into a humanitarian crisis.

But even if Greek voters vote “yes,” then the way back for Greece will hardly be any easier.

Trust in Mr. Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has collapsed: the president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem made clear over the weekend that the eurozone would struggle now to sign any bailout deal with the current government since there could be little confidence any deal would be implemented. Given the composition of the current parliament, most likely new elections would be needed to deliver a government with which the eurozone could negotiate what would be an entire new program.

That risks extending the uncertainty further into the summer, during which time capital controls would likely remain in place and the economy would face major disruption. What is more, the damage to the banking system could by then be so great that it may need to be restructured before capital controls can be lifted, raising the possibility that some depositors will take losses.

Indeed, any future bailout is now likely be harsher than the one Mr. Tsipras just rejected, reflecting the further damage to the economy. Some eurozone policy makers talk privately of the need for an ambitious World Bank-style program to help overhaul Greece’s public administration and turn Greece into a modern European economy able to exist within a monetary union.

The risk is that this proves too demanding even for Greek citizens, meaning that even after a yes vote, the country may still drift out of the eurozone. But if Greek voters signal that they are once again prepared to endure such privations for the sake of their European dreams, they can be sure that Europe will again come to their aid, such is Greece’s continued hold over the European imagination.

Crazy: Tourists Evacuate Tunisia After Terror Attack - Death toll from assault rises to 39; At least 15 British nationals killed

From The Wall Street Journal:

SOUSSE, Tunisia—Thousands of Europeans fled Tunisia on Saturday, as the death toll from the worst terror attack in the country’s history rose to 39 and authorities tightened security at tourist hot spots.

He took care to avoid shooting Tunisians as he purposely sought out foreigners, the witnesses said.

“I’m afraid that the British public need to be prepared for the fact that many of those killed were British,” Prime Minister David Cameron said, adding that U.K. officials are working with Tunisian authorities to identify casualties.

Tunisia is a popular vacation destination among Britons, with the country’s largest travel association, ABTA, estimating about 20,000 British tourists are on vacation in Tunisia.

Regulating Sex

From The New York Times (and encourage you to read all):

THIS is a strange moment for sex in America. We’ve detached it from pregnancy, matrimony and, in some circles, romance. At least, we no longer assume that intercourse signals the start of a relationship. But the more casual sex becomes, the more we demand that our institutions and government police the line between what’s consensual and what isn’t. And we wonder how to define rape. Is it a violent assault or a violation of personal autonomy? Is a person guilty of sexual misconduct if he fails to get a clear “yes” through every step of seduction and consummation?
According to the doctrine of affirmative consent — the “yes means yes” rule — the answer is, well, yes, he is. And though most people think of “yes means yes” as strictly for college students, it is actually poised to become the law of the land.
About a quarter of all states, and the District of Columbia, now say sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, although some states undercut that standard by requiring proof of force or resistance as well.
Codes and laws calling for affirmative consent proceed from admirable impulses. (The phrase “yes means yes,” by the way, represents a ratcheting-up of “no means no,” the previous slogan of the anti-rape movement.) People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.
And if one person can think he’s hooking up while the other feels she’s being raped, it makes sense to have a law that eliminates the possibility of misunderstanding. “You shouldn’t be allowed to make the assumption that if you find someone lying on a bed, they’re free for sexual pleasure,” says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of a judicial education program at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.

Republicans noisily outraged — and quietly relieved — over court decision

From The Washington Post:

Even as Republicans rose in a chorus of outrage Thursday over the Supreme Court’s refusal to gut the Affordable Care Act, party leaders were privately relieved.

Republicans were spared the challenge of having to come up with a solution for the 6.4 million Americans — most of them in conservative states — who might have found their health insurance unaffordable had the court gone the other way.

And as it moves into a presidential election season, the party can continue to galvanize the conservative base by railing against both the law and the high court.

“Every GOP candidate for the Republican nomination should know that this decision makes the 2016 election a referendum on the full repeal of Obamacare,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), one of the 13 Republicans who have declared they are running.

At the same time, the court’s second ruling in favor of the five-year-old law has increased the pressure on Republicans to tell the country how they would fix the health-care system.

“A Republican nominee for president will have to have a plan to replace the law,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who in his failed Senate campaign in Virginia last year was virtually the only nationally prominent member of his party to come up with one.

David Winston, a pollster who advises the GOP congressional leadership, said, “Ultimately, the challenge for Republicans is not just how to deal with this law, but where’s the direction? Where are the alternatives?”

Republicans do have some ideas. They support, for example, the law’s provision preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions and requiring them to allow parents to carry their young adult offspring on their policies. Most also argue for allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines.

Winston also pointed to a bipartisan proposal, advanced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking committee Democrat Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), that aims to accelerate the pace of medical breakthroughs.

But none of the GOP proposals would go as far as the Affordable Care Act has in guaranteeing coverage, and many health experts say that a piecemeal approach would send health-care costs soaring.

One thing that is certain: The issue will not go away.

“ObamaCare is fundamentally broken, increasing health-care costs for millions of Americans,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement issued by his office. “Today’s ruling doesn’t change that fact.”

Indeed, the initial round of rhetoric after the court decision suggested that the ruling had further inflamed the right and given the growing field of Republican presidential contenders a new battle cry.

“Our Founding Fathers didn’t create a ‘do-over’ provision in our Constitution that allows unelected, Supreme Court justices the power to circumvent Congress and rewrite bad laws,” former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said in a statement while campaigning in southern Iowa.

“The decision turns both the rule of law and common sense on its head,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “As president, I would make it my mission to repeal it, and propose real solutions to our health care system.”

Democrats also saw in the court’s decision an opportunity to change the political dynamic around the issue.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination, issued a statement noting Republicans in Congress have “voted more than 50 times to repeal or dismantle the law, roll back coverage for millions of Americans, and let insurers write their own rules again — all without proposing any viable alternatives.”

“Now that the Supreme Court has once again re-affirmed the ACA as the law of the land,” she added, “it’s time for the Republican attacks to end. It’s time to move on.”

The justices, in a surprisingly strong 6-to-3 vote, ruled that government subsidies for health insurance should remain available not only in 16 states that have set up their own insurance marketplaces but also in the 34 states — most of them dominated by Republicans — that have refused to do so, relying on the federal government exchange instead.

That might sound like a technical issue, resolving ambiguous language in the bill that President Obama signed into law in 2010. But the practical effect of taking government assistance from people who bought their coverage on the federal ­exchanges could have made the entire law unworkable because so many consumers would have found their new insurance policies unaffordable, many health-care experts said.

Republicans would have been in a difficult spot if the court had struck down federal subsidies in the majority of states.

The decision was “a bad legal outcome but a good political outcome” for Republicans, Gillespie said.

“Today Democrats, and my guess is Republicans, are breathing one gigantic sigh of relief,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The fact that Americans hold conflicted views of the law and the choice that was before the court demonstrates how treacherous the politics of health care may be for Republicans going forward.

In a May Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 39 percent of respondents said they approve of the law, while 54 percent said they opposed it. But when asked whether the court should take away subsidies in states that rely on the federal exchanges, 55 percent said the justices should not; only 38 percent said they should.

Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP strategist, said he was “relieved by the decision,” but he acknowledged that there could still be problems ahead.

“What I don’t want is a political environment where, for the next year, we’re in a ditch with people asking, ‘What’s your exact health-care plan?’ and then when we present one it gets torn apart,” Wilson said. “Anyone who thinks that’s a great political frame to put yourself in for 2016 hasn’t ever done an election.”

Former Michigan governor John Engler, a Republican who heads the Business Roundtable, said that pressure will remain to fix elements of the law that are opposed by many in both parties, including the tax it would impose on high-cost “Cadillac” health policies and its tax on medical devices.

He said of the court decision: “What this means is that probably major changes in the Affordable Care Act will be debated in the 2016 election.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The State of the Kurds - With a political win in Turkey, victories over Islamic State and autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds are enjoying a triumphant moment—and thinking of a country of their own

From last weekend's edition of The Wall Street Journal:

It is a time of good news for the Kurds, a people more accustomed to tragedy than to triumph.

Just last week in Turkey, a political party rooted in the struggle for Kurdish rights vaulted over the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation, giving the Kurds their biggest say ever in Turkish politics. Days later, allied Kurdish fighters in Syria seized a crucial border crossing from Islamic State, thus uniting Kurdish areas that now stretch from Iraq halfway to the Mediterranean Sea.

In Iraq, the Kurds repelled an assault by Islamic State last year, and their budding autonomous government in northern Iraq has taken advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi army to seize full control of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk—often dubbed the “Kurdish Jerusalem” because of its historic significance—and the all-important oil fields nearby.

Amid an imploding Middle East ravaged by religious hatreds, the Kurds are providing a rare bright spot—and their success story is finding fresh support and sympathy in the West. By contrast with the rest of the region, all the main Kurdish movements today are broadly pro-Western and secular (though their politicians often don’t practice what they preach, and many Kurds are very traditional).

“We are now living a Kurdish moment in the history of the region,” said Kendal Nezan, director of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, a think tank formed in 1983 to unite Kurdish intellectuals and rally Western support. “The Kurdish project is a project of pluralism, democracy and protection for minority rights—which is something new for the Middle East as we know it.”

The Kurdish awakening has emerged from the upheaval of the 2011 Arab Spring, and it is adding fresh disruption to the region’s old order. “The events in Iraq, in Syria and in Turkey have profoundly altered the place of the Kurds in the Middle East—they provide fresh impetus and momentum toward Kurdish independence in some form,” said Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq and to Syria and is now dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. Such Kurdish independence, he cautioned, “could produce permanent fragmentation of Iraq and Syria—and launch a whole new dimension of instability in the Middle East.”

Numbering some 30 million people, the Kurds are one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without a state of their own, scattered since antiquity in the mountainous lands straddling today’s Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language, Kurdish, is part of the Indo-European family of languages—close to Persian (Farsi) but unrelated to Arabic or Turkish. Unlike Iranians, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, most Kurds are Sunnis.

After World War I, the Kurds sought self-rule at the 1920 peace negotiations between the defeated Ottoman government and the victorious allies. The resulting Treaty of Sèvres called for the establishment within a year of an independent Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey, with the prospect of quick “voluntary adhesion” to the new country by the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

But the Sèvres accord was dead on arrival. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, denounced it as treasonous and launched a war that led to the abolition of the Ottoman state. The brief glimmer of hope for Kurdish self-rule was extinguished for generations.

In the following decades, Atatürk’s fiercely nationalist Turkey denied the very existence of the Kurds, banning their language and officially referring to them as “mountain Turks.” By the mid-1980s, a far-left guerrilla movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, was fighting a bloody war against the Turkish state (and against fellow Kurds whom it viewed as collaborators). The fighting ended only after the PKK’s leader Abdullah Ocalan, who had been jailed by Turkey since 1999, proclaimed a cease fire in March 2013.

Across the border in Iraq, Kurdish autonomy was sometimes recognized, but Kurdish uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by successive governments. Repression reached its bloody peak in 1988, when Saddam Hussein’s forces used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians during the so-called Anfal campaign. As for Syria, though it backed the PKK against Turkey, it stripped many of its own Kurds of Syrian citizenship. And in Iran, both the shah and the Islamic Republic that overthrew his monarchy in 1979 have suppressed Kurdish aspirations.

The quarreling Kurds, with their alphabet soup of rival political groups, have also repeatedly undermined their own cause. In 1982, Saddam Hussein remarked that he didn’t have to worry about the Kurds because they were “hopelessly divided against each other.” Indeed, the two main Kurdish factions in Iraq—the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—fought a devastating civil war the following decade, though they had reconciled by the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, ousting Saddam’s regime and giving the Kurds an unprecedented opportunity.

The new Iraqi constitution adopted after the U.S. invasion enshrined broad powers for an autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, that is home to six million people. Control over their own affairs has allowed the Kurds to achieve what many in the region have called a “Kurdish miracle” in northern Iraq. A boom in investment and construction has produced new highways, hotels and shopping malls that feel worlds away from strife-torn Iraqi cities such as Baghdad and Mosul. “While the rest of Iraq was nose-diving into civil war, everyone was talking about the success story of Kurdistan,” said Cale Salih, an Iraqi Kurdish analyst and a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The Kurdistan government in northern Iraq maintains its own armed forces, known as the Peshmerga (literally, “those who confront death”). No Iraqi troops are allowed in the Kurdish region, which controls its own borders, and Westerners can fly into the region’s capital, Erbil, without a visa. Kurdish is used everywhere as the official language, and few young Iraqi Kurds can speak fluent Arabic. A giant green, white and red Kurdish banner flies from Erbil’s ancient hilltop citadel, while Iraqi flags are hard to spot.

In 2011, the Arab Spring opened still other possibilities for the Kurds. The PKK, once an ally of the Assad regime in Damascus (and still classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Turkey), had long been present among Kurdish communities in northern Syria. When the revolutionary tide reached Syria, the group’s Syrian affiliate quickly seized control of three Kurdish-majority regions along the Turkish frontier. PKK fighters and weapons streamed there from other parts of Kurdistan.

Last fall, international attention focused on one of these areas, the town of Kobani, when it came under attack by the newly powerful Islamic State. Tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees fled into Turkey, and outgunned Kurdish defenders waged street battles against Islamic State’s onslaught. But Turkey refused to help, arguing that the Kurdish fighters were no better than Islamic State’s militants.

As the city of Kobani seemed poised to fall, the U.S. entered the fray, launching waves of airstrikes that eventually tilted the balance. After fully liberating Kobani in January, Syrian Kurds were able to take the offensive, culminating with the expulsion this week of Islamic State from the strategic border town of Tal Abyad.

Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a heavy political price for his decisions during the Kobani crisis. Traditionally, his party had won a large proportion of votes among Turkey’s conservative Kurds, many of whom had rewarded Mr. Erdogan for his initiatives to negotiate peace with the PKK and to relax restrictions on Kurdish language and culture—as well as for years of economic growth in long-neglected Kurdish areas of the country. But in elections held on June 7, many Kurds deserted Mr. Erdogan’s party and voted instead for the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which was backed by the banned PKK.

“In the past, I voted for Erdogan because he was talking about the peace process, but after Kobani, I realized that he was cheating us,” said Bedri Ateş, a farmer from near Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish parts of Turkey.

The HDP campaigned on a broader agenda and won 13% of the national vote, including ballots from non-Kurds who liked the party’s support for the rights of women, gays and religious minorities. But the main message of the HDP’s triumph—which deprived Mr. Erdogan of a parliamentary majority for the first time in 12 years—was that Turkey’s Kurds can no longer be ignored.

“The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage,” the party’s chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, said in an interview this week. “Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.”

Recent turbulence in the region has had, for the Kurds, the unexpected benefit of weakening the traditional enemies of Kurdish independence. “In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS,” said Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir (using another name for Islamic State). “In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.”

That power was on display in northern Syria this week, as the surprisingly rapid offensive into Tal Abyad led by the PKK’s local affiliate severed the main lines of communication between Turkey and Islamic State’s de facto capital city of Raqqa. Much to Turkey’s fury, the U.S. has provided air support in that offensive, arguing that while the PKK is formally listed as a terrorist organization, that designation does not cover the outlawed group’s Syrian affiliate.

In the battle for Western public opinion, the female military commanders and secularism of the PKK have provided a refreshing contrast to the medieval prohibitions of Islamic State. In Syria, the PKK’s affiliate has even attracted a trickle of American and European volunteer fighters from non-Kurdish backgrounds. Still, factionalism has intruded. In areas of Syria that it controls, the PKK has restricted the activities of rival Kurdish groups, including those allied with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which dominates the Kurdistan government in northern Iraq.

“The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways,” said Mr. Elçi, the head of the Diyarbakir bar. “But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.”

Those tensions aren’t likely to lead to violence this time around, most Kurdish politicians and outside analysts agree. The price of such internecine conflict, after all, would be too high at a time when the Kurds face an existential menace from Islamic State. “The Kurds don’t want this strife anymore. Everyone now knows that such a conflict among Kurds will make everyone a loser and ISIS the only winner,” said Vahap Coşkun, a professor at Dicle University in Diyarbakir who is involved in peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK.

Still, political divisions do hamper the Kurds’ struggle against Islamic State and their prospects for self-rule. According to Mustafa Sayid Qadir, the minister of Peshmerga affairs in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, only a minority of Peshmerga brigades on the front lines are under unified command, and the rest still report directly to one of the two rival political parties.

“The external environment now is more favorable to independence for Kurdistan than before, but our internal affairs are not,” warned Jalal Jawhar, deputy secretary-general of the Movement for Change, the second-largest party in the parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan, which emerged in recent years from a protest movement against the dominance of two older parties. “It is our own fault that we have not prepared ourselves properly for independence. If tomorrow we announced our independence and got dragged into a big war in the region, we would not be ready for it.”

The collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of Islamic State’s advance and continued bickering with the central government in Baghdad over the country’s dwindling oil revenues may end up pushing Iraqi Kurdistan toward such independence anyway. While the Shiite-led government in Baghdad continues to pay the salaries of public employees—roughly half the country’s workforce—in lands controlled by Islamic State, Kurdish public servants and the Peshmerga haven’t been paid for months. Many Kurds also complain that Baghdad is sabotaging their efforts to get better weapons.

“For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” asked Erbil province’s governor, Nawzad Hadi. “All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.”

Kemal Kirkuki, a former speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament who now commands 11 Peshmerga brigades on the Kirkuk front lines, agreed: “The Iraqi state has failed, and we need another solution.”

The prospect of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq or northern Syria isn’t something that regional powers such as Turkey and Iran are likely to welcome. The U.S., too, still clings to the idea that a unified Iraq could be brought together again somehow.

American support for the efforts of Iraqi Kurds against Islamic State should not be seen as an endorsement of the Kurds’ wider aspirations, warned Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“That’s pretty low-level stuff—that certainly is not a commitment to an independent Kurdistan the moment it becomes irritating to its neighbors,” Mr. Cordesman said. Such a Kurdish state, he added, “has no real great strategic benefits to the U.S. and a lot of potential liabilities.”

Amid the regional war against Islamic State, international assistance to the Kurds represents a tactical choice, not a strategic shift, agreed Gönül Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.: “The Kurds are overconfident. But this doesn’t mean the world is behind them.”

Mr. Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party in Turkey, said that he’s aware of this reality—but also urged taking a longer view. “The new reality is that the Kurds are a power that is not temporary anymore. They are a power that is going to stay.”

The Obamacare and marriage rulings prove Justice Roberts is no partisan

Ruth Marcus, a left-of-center columnist for The Washington Post and stand-in for Mark Shields from time to time on my weekly must-see and favorite program on PBS Friday evening Shields and Brooks, writes in The Washington Post:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. knew a torrent of conservative invective was headed his way, so perhaps praise from a left-of-center columnist is the last thing he needs.

Sorry, chief, here goes.

Roberts saved the Affordable Care Act, a second time, for the man who voted against confirming him. It was the right decision, a wise one, for the law, the court and the country.

For this, predictably, Roberts has been branded David Souter-lite. “He stands revealed as a most political Justice,” thundered the Wall Street Journal editorial board, accusing Roberts of “volunteering as Nancy Pelosi’s copy editor.”

That was among the milder critiques. “It’s time we admitted that our national ‘umpire’ is now playing for one of the teams,” said Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.

Deep breath, folks. Roberts is no liberal squish. He’s not even a centrist squish. He’s a deeply conservative jurist, as witnessed by his impassioned dissent in the court’s same-sex marriage ruling the day after his supposed treachery on health care.

“Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Roberts wrote. “Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.”

I happen to agree with Roberts on health care and disagree on marriage, but his position in both is intellectually consistent in its conception of the judicial role. It behooves even those of us who believe that the court was correct in extending marriage rights to same-sex couples to think through his arguments about short-circuiting the democratic process and investing judges with policymaking powers.

And, by the way, let’s not get carried away by the remarkable string of liberal victories in the court’s final week, including an expansive interpretation of the housing discrimination law along with the health care and marriage cases.

This is not a liberal court. It’s a conservative court that occasionally, thanks to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, swings in the opposite direction. In the run-up to the 2016 election, complacency about the court would be foolish. The next president will shape the country’s constitutional future.

But back to health care. The six-justice majority — that Kennedy would betray the cause is no longer enraging to conservatives — was correct on the law. Certainly, the phrase “exchange established by the State” was, to use Roberts’s term, “inartful.”

Yet as Roberts convincingly demonstrated, interpreting the law to make subsidies unavailable in most states would mean that “Congress made the viability of the entire Affordable Care Act turn on the ultimate ancillary provision: a sub-sub-sub section of the Tax Code.”

Rather, Roberts wrote, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

This is not judicial activism, rewriting legislation from the bench. It’s judicial deference with a brain.

I’ve been skeptical of Roberts’s famous umpire analogy because it seems to reduce judging to a mechanistic enterprise: If the judge thinks hard enough, the “correct” answer will emerge. That’s too simplistic. The capacious phrases of the Constitution, as the marriage case demonstrates, inevitably leave space for judgment and ideology.

But it is also true — and this is one reason that Roberts deserves praise — that there are times when the correct legal result is reasonably clear. It is then the judge’s responsibility to follow it, no matter what his or her policy preference.

Does anyone think that John Roberts, citizen, or John Roberts, member of Congress, would vote for the Affordable Care Act? Or President Obama? Of course not. The health-care ruling helps — or should help — undermine the cynical view that all judges are mere partisans in robes, reflexively ruling for their team.

Which brings me to the final point, about how the health-care ruling is good for the court and the country. Justices, and the chief justice in particular, have a duty to consider and safeguard the court’s institutional role. Roberts did so in both health-care rulings, protecting the court from being accused of overreaching and of inserting itself into political arguments.

They also have a responsibility to consider the practical implications of their actions. A decision invalidating subsidies on federal exchanges would have created turmoil for millions of Americans, a step the court should not take lightly.

I don’t always — actually, I don’t often — agree with the chief justice. I do respect logic and consistency.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Meet the Health-Law Holdouts: Americans Who Prefer to Go Uninsured - Despite new insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, some still prefer getting care through cash, barter and charity. (Supporters hadn’t imagined what the Congressional Budget Office has since projected: that the largest group of people who will remain uninsured—some 45% of them—will be people who forgo coverage by choice, even though the law guarantees they can get it through a job or on their own.).

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Affordable Care Act has a perplexing problem: Many uninsured Americans prefer their old ways of getting health care.

For millions, arranging treatment through cash, barter and charity is still better than paying for insurance. They include Lisa Khechoom of Glendale, Calif., who refuses to buy coverage. She says she pays a flat $35 for a doctor visit and often substitutes prescriptions with cheaper natural remedies for herself, her husband and their children.

“I’m spending money either way, but it’s going to be less,” says the 41-year-old, who runs a telecom-service business with her husband that brings them an annual income of around $77,000. “For the amount of office visits I do make, why pay $3,500 for insurance when I’m not even taking advantage of it? We go to the doctor and we pay for it. Usually I can get a better deal than if I had insurance.”

The law’s penalty for not carrying insurance grows to its maximum next year and will start at $695 for an individual, up from $325 this year. That isn’t enough to sway Ms. Khechoom, who says paying the penalty is still preferable to buying coverage.

The persistence of holdouts like Ms. Khechoom suggests that the U.S. health-care landscape under the landmark 2010 health law, in many ways, will look like it did before: A large pool of uninsured will use a thriving parallel market for treatment, one partly subsidized by taxpayers and the premiums of people who do buy insurance.

The law’s supporters are trying to figure out how to get these people to embrace insurance. The law’s opponents say the large numbers rejecting its central aim prove it is foundering. Both are waiting to see if the health-care overhaul survives the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by month’s end on a case by plaintiffs who argue they shouldn’t have to pay penalties for staying uninsured.

The 2010 law, popularly known as “Obamacare,” was passed on the premise that more than 50 million people in the U.S. needed health coverage but couldn’t get it. It aimed to fix that by requiring big employers to offer health benefits and insurers to sell individual policies to everyone, often with government-funded discounts.

Supporters hadn’t imagined what the Congressional Budget Office has since projected: that the largest group of people who will remain uninsured—some 45% of them—will be people who forgo coverage by choice, even though the law guarantees they can get it through a job or on their own.
The health law’s champions hadn’t counted on universal coverage because the law excludes unauthorized immigrants and can’t do much for poor Americans who don’t enroll in Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people, or don’t qualify for it.

Studies put the number who have gained insurance as a result of the law at 16 million to 17 million. About 35 million are still uninsured, according to the CBO, which projects that number will fall to 26 million over the next five years.

But sign-up rates for private coverage under the law are already slowing, and the Obama administration has said the CBO’s forecasts for people buying insurance in the future might be too high.

Can’t fit it in

Among the people behind those slowing numbers is Teasa Lappin of Ravenna, Texas. Ms. Lappin, 54, is an administrator for an insurance agent but is uninsured. There isn’t room in the annual family budget of around $40,000, she says, to cover herself and her husband, who has Medicare and a supplemental plan.

She says she tried earlier this year to keep up payments on a $316-a-month health plan with a $6,000 deductible bought under the health law. After nearly draining her savings to pay for it, she says, she stopped. “I was digging deeper and deeper in a hole.”

“Everything I ever need I pay for in cash,” Ms. Lappin says. She has pared her medical treatment back to a twice-annual blood test, for which she was told she could pay $90, versus the $180 list price an insurer would have been charged.

“I would love to be able to afford it,” she says of insurance. “What I have to do is pray a lot and pay a lot.”

Health-law holdouts are diverse in their income, their health and where they live, surveys show. One commonality: They have often considered insurance and concluded they are still better off using doctors, hospitals and labs who take cash, negotiate prices or write off bills. In some cases, they look to charity clinics, overseas travel and prescription-drug-giveaway programs.

They “know what they’re doing,” says Mike Perry, a pollster who recently completed a study, “Understanding the Uninsured Now,” for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports the health law, and the GMMB communications firm, which works with the foundation.

“They’ve been to the site,” he says of HealthCare.gov, “they’ve done the math” and have figured that the cost of insurance and deductibles, weighed against discounts on premiums and fines for going uninsured, comes out in favor of going it alone.

Most uninsured “feel they can still get care without insurance, and pay for it,” Mr. Perry says. More than half his respondents said they had had prescriptions, doctors’ visits, checkups, emergency care or preventive tests and screenings since being uninsured—and said they were confident they could continue to do so.

Holdouts are a challenge to the Affordable Care Act because its goal was to improve the U.S. system of insurance-based care by guaranteeing more people bought into it. The law’s insurance changes stand to work better if more people participate—especially younger, healthier ones.

The law’s ability to revamp the health-delivery system is also affected by the flourishing parallel system that serves the uninsured. Doctors’ offices typically have price lists for cash-paying patients, and the uninsured who use them say they’re often surprisingly reasonable. Hospitals that charge high prices to the uninsured at times are willing to haggle them down, figuring it is easier to take in whatever money they can.

Some who opt out of insurance inevitably pass the costs on, as they always have. Federal law requires emergency rooms to offer lifesaving treatment, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, and hospitals typically operate formal charity programs for other urgent needs. So when some of the uninsureds’ bills go unmet, they are footed by a combination of taxes and higher prices passed along to patients with insurance.

People like Ms. Khechoom say they are paying their own way, making responsible choices for themselves and their families. Her provider is happy to take cash for the $35 primary-care visit, she says. Getting her finger stitched when she cut it in the kitchen came to $100. If she had to, Ms. Khechoom says she would pay cash for a hospital visit.

Some actively like going it alone. Bob McConnell, 60, of Fort Mill, S.C., describes himself as an investor who is generally well off. Married and with two children, he says he saves money by haggling directly with doctors and labs over fees. He also objects to the law on philosophical grounds, seeing it as an intrusion on his privacy.

“Effectively, I am self-insuring,” he says. At his local pharmacy, he uses coupons he couldn’t apply if he had a plan through the Affordable Care Act, he says. “It costs less than the pharmacy benefit plan I was covered under as the copays were steep and I had to pay full retail without coupons for a couple essential name-brand products.”

Many people Mr. Perry’s firm surveyed said they valued the financial security of having health insurance, but not as much as repaying debts, building savings or repairing homes or cars.

Kim Hess, 51, says she can’t squeeze money for a health premium out of her budget. Ms. Hess, of Concord Township, Ohio, works two part-time jobs as a nurse, making about $27,000 a year, she says, and her husband has an income of $21,000. One bad illness would wipe out the family financially in any case, she says. “Having health care is not going to save my house.”

She has bulging discs that have all but crippled her in one leg, she says. She turned to the emergency room when her pain became excruciating and used her contact network to find a doctor willing to take cash to order her an MRI and write her prescriptions.

“If I wasn’t a nurse, I would be lost,” she says. “Uninsured people really have to be savvy.”

‘Respect the choice’

Indeed, going it alone isn’t easy. Many of the uninsured still say they don’t feel all their health needs are being met by their efforts to cobble together care. And negotiating is stressful. Some have been stung by big bills that took years to pay, although that could happen when they had insurance, too.

Some of the health law’s boosters have concluded they have to recognize the tough straits people are in. “We do have to respect the choice,” Alison Betty, a GMMB partner, told a recent conference of enrollment activists.

About 6.7 million people had paid-up health plans through the law’s online exchanges by the end of 2014, the Obama administration says. Around 11 million more signed up for Medicaid.

There are currently 10.2 million enrollees with private coverage for 2015, officials announced this month. That is on track with the administration’s target, which Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell revised downward last fall from a CBO projection that 13 million would use the exchanges this year. “We are in the middle of doing our analysis for our next open enrollment,” Ms. Burwell told The Wall Street Journal. “It is an evolving picture.”

Some state officials say those numbers reflect the most enthusiastic people to sign up, and that they don’t expect them to grow much more. “All exchanges got the low-hanging fruit in that first year,” says Pat Kelly, who heads the online exchange for Idaho, one of 13 states that fully operate their own portals for consumers to shop for insurance plans and sort out subsidies.

Mr. Kelly says that, like a business, he is looking to shift “from an acquisition mode to a retention mode.”

All this leaves medical providers in a bind. Some health systems are paring back their programs for the uninsured. Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System now restricts eligibility for its charity care programs—asking people to check first if they can get coverage on their own, but agreeing to cover urgent needs if they missed a sign-up deadline.

“One of the decisions that we did make was that we really wanted people to sign up,” says Nancy Schlichting, the system’s chief executive officer. “If we continued to offer exactly the same program that we had in the past, people would decide, well, why should I sign up?”

Other programs keep offering the same services to the uninsured—and find they need to expand. The Healing Hands Health Center in Bristol, Tenn., which has provided charity care exclusively to the working uninsured for 18 years, has just bought a bigger building. Patients make a $10 donation for a doctor visit and $20 for the dentist, and can do gardening or window washing instead of paying.

The clinic staff recently diagnosed diabetic ulcers for Phillip Hurd, 48, a home-health aide, and helped him persuade the local hospital to operate and write off the cost. The clinic encouraged Mr. Hurd to review insurance options on HealthCare.gov. He did. After weighing the cost, he says, he concluded he was better off staying at Healing Hands and paying the penalty under the health-care law if he had to.

Sarah Phillips, the center’s development director, says she is almost halfway to raising $4 million for a new endowment to keep the center going for years to come.

“I’d rather you have insurance. As a taxpayer, if I’m paying taxes for this Affordable Care Act, I want you to take it,” she says, but “we need to keep doing what we’re doing….What if we weren’t here?”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Very significant; passage lets Hillary have it both ways (she really was for it, but said she wasn't): Fast-Track Trade Bill Clears Key Hurdle in Senate - Vote is pivotal step toward passage of fast-track measure

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Senate on Tuesday gave President Barack Obama’s trade agenda a big push forward, in a pivotal vote that clears the highest remaining procedural hurdle to giving the president expanded trade-negotiating power.

The 60-37 vote effectively ends any filibuster that opponents might mount and sets up the fast-track bill to pass the Senate by Wednesday. The House has already passed the measure and Mr. Obama has vowed to sign it into law. The bill will stand as one of the most significant legislative acts of his presidency and a monument to the power of divided government to cut through partisan gridlock.

More Republicans support fast-track than Democrats, but GOP supporters had to rely on the votes of 13 business-friendly Democrats to advance the fast-track legislation, which would give Mr. Obama the power to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Five Republicans and the chamber’s two independents voted no.

The success in getting around the Senate’s last procedural hurdle was a victory for the White House, businesses and Republican leaders. It was a crushing blow to labor unions and environmentalists, who helped elect Mr. Obama and view his trade agenda, and the intensity with which he has fought for it, as a betrayal.

“This is a day of celebration in the corporate suites of this country,” Mr. Brown said. “They’ve got another corporate-sponsored trade agreement that will mean more money in some investors’ pockets. It will mean more plant closings in Ohio and Arizona and Delaware and Rhode Island and West Virginia and Maine and all over this country.”

But it also represented a personal victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who won re-election last year by saying he had the clout to assemble bipartisan majorities.
“This has been a long and rather twisted path to where we are today but it’s a very, very important accomplishment for the country,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote.

Tuesday’s outcome was made possible by last November’s elections, which gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in eight years and meant that both chambers of Congress were in Republican hands for the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency.

For his part, Mr. Obama put aside his disagreements with Mr. McConnell and instead threw himself into the task of lining up support for the fast-track bill with gusto—so much, in fact, that Mr. McConnell told reporters that after communicating with Mr. Obama and being on the same side of the issue he was practically having an “out-of-body experience.”

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote had been in doubt even as late as Monday night, hinging on whether enough of the 14 pro-trade Senate Democrats who had voted for a fast-track bill last month would do so again. Only one of them, Ben Cardin of Maryland, switched his vote to no, after expressing concerns that the workers assistance bill would be moved separately and later.

A last-minute defection on the Republican side came from Sen. Ted Cruz, who complained that negotiations had involved too much backroom dealing. His switch created more uncertainty about the vote and increased Mr. McConnell’s reliance on Democrats.

To secure Democratic support, Mr. McConnell has pledged to immediately take up legislation to pass bills to renew a program to help workers hurt by international trade, as well as a separate measure to extend trade preference for sub-Saharan African nations. He also said that he would begin the process of reconciling differences with the House over legislation to step up enforcement of trade laws by the end of the week.

The first of those votes is set to occur on Wednesday, a procedural vote on renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the trade-preferences measure with which it is combined. If the Senate clears a 60-vote procedural hurdle, final passage of the workers-assistance bill would occur by Thursday and the measure would then be sent to the House, where GOP leaders say they want to pass it immediately and have it on the president’s desk by the end of the week.

Even if the GOP leaders live up to their promises to the Democrats, the votes won’t end trade fights in Washington but instead will open up a new front in the battle. If the Senate passes the fast-track bill by Wednesday, as expected, the White House will then have to turn its attention to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade accord, and convincing Congress to ratify it.

Because the fast-track bill will expedite passage of trade deals negotiated over the next six years but not guarantee their passage, the next phase of the fight will be even more important than the first round. Some Democrats who voted for fast-track legislation have warned Mr. Obama not to presume that they will also vote for the Pacific deal, the largest in history.

The coming battle will shift away from the process for ratifying trade deals and toward the substance of the pacts themselves. Trade negotiators have been working in secret on the trade accord, and lawmakers are able to study the text only by going into a secure room in which they are banned from taking any notes. The fast-track bill will force the text into the public eye, requiring publication of the agreement 60 days before the president signs the accord. The president would then still have to submit implementation legislation to Congress before the deal is ratified.

The uncertain potential for Congress to ratify a new trade pact speaks to the open wounds left by the fast-track fight, which was brutal even by contemporary Washington standards. Mr. Obama blasted Democrats for distorting the issues, and said that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a liberal standard-bearer, was “wrong on this.”

The liberal wing of the party gave as good as it got, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlining a plan to freeze campaign contributions until after the fast-track vote played out. Other liberal groups chased Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) around his state with a blimp and a recreational vehicle to pressure him to back off the fast-track bill that he helped write.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Everything you need to know about why Greece might leave the euro

From The Washington Post:

Greece's government doesn't have enough money to pay back what it owes, but the bigger problem is that Greece's banks might not either. And that's the real reason Greece might be forced out of the euro.

The years change, but the Greek crisis stays the same. Greece borrowed too much money, lied about it, and then, when the subterfuge was revealed, couldn't borrow any more from banks that didn't want to lend to a government that already couldn't pay back what it owed. Default loomed. But if it happened, it would have dragged down French and German banks—and who knows how many others—at a time when the financial system was already in bad shape. So Europe lent Greece the money it needed to, well, pay Europe back. They eventually agreed to write down most of Greece's private-sector debt, but the spending cuts they insisted on in return decimated Greece's economy so much that, by this point, its debt burden isn't any lower than before. So the question now is whether they can agree to a new old deal that would give Greece the money it needs to make its debt payments, this time in return for cutting pensions more than the 40 percent they already have been. If they don't, default looms again—and Greece would presumably leave the euro.

But wait a minute. Why would Greece have to trade in its euros for drachmas if it defaulted on its debt? In theory, there's nothing that would stop it from using the common currency even if it stopped paying its peers. Sure, France and Germany wouldn't exactly be pleased to, between the two of them, be out €100 billion, but they couldn't throw Greece out for that. The problem, though, is the European Central Bank could. Greece's banks are already in a precarious position—they rely on emergency loans from the ECB to stay afloat—and they'd be in even more of one if the government defaulted. That's because they hold a lot of Greek bonds and deferred tax assets that would probably be worth a lot less, if anything, in the case of default. Greece's banks, in other words, would basically be bankrupt, and there'd only be three ways to fix it.

1. The ECB gives Greece's banks as many emergency loans as they need. This is what's happened so far, but the question is how much farther the ECB is willing to go. The answer on Friday, at least, was another €2 billion. That's how much more emergency credit the ECB approved in the wake of a slow-motion bank run—a bank jog, really—that's starting to pick up the pace. Indeed, Greek depositors pulled €3 billion out of their banks this week, with €1 billion of that coming on Thursday alone; that's three times as much as normal.

Why the panic? Well, before the latest emergency loans, a European official had leaked that the ECB wasn't sure if Greece's banks had enough cash on hand to open on Monday. That's not so much yelling fire in a crowded theater as starting one. The idea was probably to put so much pressure on Greece's banks that Greece's government felt like it had no choice but to back down in this latest game of financial chicken. That, after all, is what Ireland's government thinks Europe did to it during its own bailout talks. The risk here, though, is that things can have a way of spiraling out of control. That's why the ECB immediately stepped in with the extra loans—although those loans only last through Monday. If there's not a deal then, the ECB will have to decide whether it's willing to cut Greece loose from the eurozone or give its banks more time so its government does too.

2. Greece bails in its banks and institutes capital controls. What's the difference between a bailout and a bail-in? Well, the first is when the government gives a bank the money it needs, and the second is when the bank takes the money from its lenders—including depositors. That's what happened to Cyprus two years ago, when any deposits over the insured limit of €100,000 were turned into bank stock. Of course, people would try to move their money out of the country if they thought that you were about to take it away, so you'd need to put capital controls in place too. Cyprus also did that.

But what's a euro if you can't use it anywhere but Greece? It's not quite a euro, but not quite not-a-euro, either. It's Schrödinger's euro. In other words, Greece would be reduced to being a once and future full member of the eurozone, and in the meantime, its economy would be even more stuck. Nobody's going want to invest in a country they can't take their money out of. The best-case scenario would be that after another horrible few years, Greece would be able to get rid of its capital controls, like Cyprus just did, and resume life as a, relatively-speaking, normal country with 25 percent-plus unemployment.

3. Greece leaves the euro and bails out its banks with newly-printed drachmas. If the ECB won't bail out Greece's banks and Greece's government won't bail them in, the only option is it to bail them out itself. But, as you might have noticed, the entire problem here is that Greece's government doesn't have enough money. Where would it get it? Well, the only place it could: the printing press. It'd have to leave the euro, turn everyone's old euros into new drachmas, and then gives the banks as many drachmas as they needed to be whole. But, again, people would try to move their money out of the country if they thought that you were about to devalue it, so you'd still have to use capital controls. Not only that, though, but the price of essentials like food and oil—which Greece imports—would explode overnight. There might be rationing.

The next two years would be even worse than the last two—finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said it would send Greece "back to the Neolithic Age" in the short-term—but Greece would at least have a real chance to recover after that. A cheaper drachma would boost tourism and exports, and stop the self-defeating cycle of wage cuts and unemployment that's made debts harder to pay back for the people and the country.

The easy way to stop Greece's Groundhog Day from giving way to its Judgment Day is for Greece to promise to cut its pensions for future, but not current, retirees, and for Europe to say yes. For all the acrimony—and there's been plenty of that—something like this is still the most likely outcome. But the longer they go without a deal, the worse Greece's banks get, and the bigger a chance that either side miscalculates.

Greece's economy has a lot of Achilles' heels, but its banks are its biggest one.

By: Matt O'Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Hillary Will Glide Above It All - The Democrats can enforce party discipline. The Republican contest will be a free-for-all.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Some observations on the announcements of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and on a looming problem for the Republican Party.

Mrs. Clinton’s announcement, last Saturday on Roosevelt Island, was first of all a concession that her April announcement, in a pretty, content-free video, didn’t quite do the job. As a speech it was largely anodyne, did the candidate no harm and probably a little good. The crowd of some 5,000 was small for a June morning in deep-blue New York. The speech quickly took on a State of the Union laundry-list quality, as if her campaign calculated the recitation of policy proposals would yield an impression of substantive depth.

Her awkwardness—the sense of always being one beat off in her words and gestures; her habit, when she comes out to applause, of bowing forward and applauding back—seems to me a kind of public shyness and is almost endearing. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t seem to enjoy crowds, which is odd since she’s in the crowds business. She is not an extrovert in the same way as her husband, and there was a moment after the speech, when the family gathered on the stage, when Bill started to bring up his arm in a dynamic pointing movement and then suddenly let it flop back down, as if he remembered he wasn’t supposed to dominate the shot.

When it was over I thought how odd it is, when the nation has never been so preoccupied with politics, that Mrs. Clinton, the president she seeks to replace, and one of her main Republican opponents show so little joy in the fleshy part of politics—the politicking, the sheer personal interplay. Mr. Obama is good on the stump, and Mrs. Clinton and Jeb Bush are not especially. But all operate at a certain remove.

Mr. Bush in his announcement had to make it new so that people would give him a second look. After the generally poor impression of the past few months, expectations were low. He exceeded them. He wished the production to have a Latin/New America flair that showed the vibrancy of America’s big ethnic and racial mix. It did. Those donors who were getting anxious about their investment probably came away calmed.

The Bushes associate the showbiz of politics with shallowness and insincerity. Jeb should get over this. It’s part of the fun of politics, as Chris Christie and Ted Cruz know. Sometimes when Mr. Bush delivers a good line he looks around at the end as if he’s thinking, “I hope you don’t mind, I had to do a good line.” That’s a kind of public shyness and awkwardness, too.

Mr. Bush always seems embarrassed at his ambition, embarrassed you’d think he wants power. This is an odd quality in one who wants power.

He often says voters want to see what’s in his heart. I’m not sure that’s true; it strikes me as old playbook. Republican voters have gotten cooler over the years; they want to know what’s in your head. I could imagine a skeptical but open-minded Democrat, however, coming away impressed.

Meanwhile the Republican establishment, such as it is, should be thinking hard on this:

Mrs. Clinton is almost certainly about to glide to her party’s nomination. There will be a few bumps. She will occasionally be pressed and challenged on various questions. There will be back and forth. But her Democratic opponents will not attack her character, her history, her financial decisions, her scandals. They will not go at her personally. She will emerge dinged but not damaged. No one will ravage the queen.

The Republican primary, on the other hand, will be all hell bursting loose. The candidates will spend the next year tearing each other apart on everything and anything. Super PACs are furiously raising money, some of which will be used to take down and slam GOP opponents in negative ads and videos.

At least a few of them will do what Newt Gingrich so effectively did to Mitt Romney in South Carolina in 2012. Mr. Gingrich hit hard on Mr. Romney’s investment firm, Bain Capital, and his tax returns. He painted Mr. Romney as a cold, rapacious capitalist who’ll close your factory and take your jobs. Mr. Gingrich described Mr. Romney’s line of work as “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.” Mr. Romney’s South Carolina numbers began to sink in the last days of the campaign. Mr. Gingrich enjoyed a surprise win.

The Obama re-election campaign was of course watching the fun, and went on to kill Mr. Romney with Mr. Gingrich’s themes. They’d likely have done it anyway but the attacks were given added legitimacy by GOP provenance.

The Democrats have an enforcement mechanism to keep all their candidates in line. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley know without being told that the party will kill them if they tear apart the assumed nominee. Their careers will be over if they go at her personally.

A GOP opposition-research veteran said of the Democrats’ enforcement mechanism, “As an upstairs-downstairs party, the upstairs is a fairly concentrated place. The Democrats as the ‘in’ party—the party of Silicon Valley and academia—has interlocking pools of money, brains and talent.” When they turn on you, it is like facing “the Death Star.” And “on top of that, you have the Clintonian tropism toward score settling and vengeance. What you have in the end is discipline.”

The Republicans? “They stand to beat the hell out of each other for months to come.” The GOP is not concentrated but spread out, geographically and culturally—“everything from establishment types to evangelicals to hedge-fund gods and farmers.” Candidates reflect diverse denominations: “It’s a party of dissenters” and operatives who have no motive to avoid hurting another group’s favorite.

Half a dozen candidates are clustered near the top, so the fight this year will be fierce. The Republicans have no old-style enforcers—no establishment figures everyone is afraid of crossing. Republicans are by nature entrepreneurs—they’ll do a lot not to lose market share.

So Republicans this cycle will likely go after each other in a personal, rough way, bloody each other, and damage the eventual nominee, while Mrs. Clinton will glide along relatively untouched. Democrats will watch the fisticuffs, determine what line of attack worked best on the GOP nominee, and mine it deeper in the general election.

Is the GOP thinking about setting 2016 ground rules? Is it thinking about penalties—publicly warning candidates that if they go at contenders on anything but the issues they’ll face the wrath of the party? Is there any way to put teeth in such a threat?

Here it should be noted that Republicans often speak of Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” He didn’t mean don’t attack them. He himself tried to take out a sitting Republican president and went at Gerald Ford hammer and tongs—on the issues. It was never personal, and it had nothing to do with “oppo.” It was about great questions, not small people. That’s not only how to win, it’s how to win with meaning.

Steve Rattner: Leave Hamilton Alone

Steve Rattner writes in The New York Times:

I’M all in for the plan announced last week by the Treasury to put a woman on a piece of American folding money. But in bumping Alexander Hamilton from the center of the $10 bill, we would be exiling the man most responsible for our nation’s having a sound currency in the first place.
The solution is simple: Evict Andrew Jackson from the $20 to make room for a worthy woman. In stark contrast to Hamilton, Jackson did more than most presidents to damage our financial system and our economy.
We are taught early on about Hamilton’s central role in the decision by the newly independent United States to assume the debts of its former colonies, a key step in constructing a sound monetary system and a creditworthy nation. That’s just a tiny example of the achievements and the visionary genius of our first — and greatest — Treasury secretary, who built the nation’s financial architecture from scratch.
Over Thomas Jefferson’s fierce opposition, he established the Bank of the United States, which facilitated government transactions and the creation of our national currency. Then there’s his 1791 Report on Manufactures, in which he displayed his understanding of the key role government can play in promoting economic development.
Not content to report, Hamilton acted, turning Paterson, N.J., into our first centrally planned industrial hub. If economic policy had been left to the agrarian-oriented Jefferson, we’d all still be farmers.
Contrast that record with Jackson’s. For starters, the rough-hewed seventh president hated paper money. (The reason Jackson was selected in 1928 to replace Grover Cleveland on the $20 bill has been lost to history.) Moreover, Jackson delivered on populist campaign promises to abolish the second Bank of the United States, which had been formed after the Senate allowed the first bank’s charter to expire.
The lack of even a primitive central bank played a significant role in the Panic of 1837, a brutal financial downturn, as well as in the frequently ensuing bouts of economic instability that persisted until after the Federal Reserve was established in 1913.
Jackson’s misguided notions weren’t limited to economic matters. While Hamilton was an abolitionist, Jackson was a slave owner. When the Public Theater took on Jackson in 2010, the musical was titled “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a nod to his role in waging war, particularly against Native Americans. Coincidentally, the hottest ticket in New York this year is a laudatory musical biography of Hamilton, also produced at the Public.
In its announcement on Wednesday, the Treasury Department said that “the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain part of the $10 note.” That’s not nearly enough for one of the greatest of our founding fathers.
The various women who’ve been put forward for this pioneering role — including Susan B. Anthony (a second try after her dollar coin flopped, twice), Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt — are all outstanding individuals worthy of recognition. Just don’t push aside Alexander Hamilton to make room.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

How a death sentence in Egypt feeds paranoia in Turkey

From The Washington Post:

On Tuesday, an Egyptian court upheld a death sentence on former President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist politician who went from being the country's first democratically-elected leader to its most high-profile inmate on death row in the space of a couple of years.

The sentence is associated with Morsi's alleged role in a series of jailbreaks and attacks on police during the 2011 uprising against the regime of Egypt's long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi won a presidential election in 2012, but was ousted in a military coup the following year by then army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who installed himself as the country's ruler and has presided over a ruthless crackdown of Morsi supporters and other dissidents.

The latest news prompted a tightly-worded White House response, with the Obama administration saying it was "deeply troubled" by Morsi's sentence and other similar verdicts handed out to members of his Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and warned that such political trials were "not only contrary to universal values but also damaging to stability that all Egyptians deserve."

But the greatest outsider ire came from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken critic of the Sissi government. Erdogan described the Egyptian verdicts as "a massacre of law and basic rights." And he urged the international community "to act to withdraw these death sentences, given under the instructions of the coup regime, and to put an end to this path which could seriously endanger the peace of Egyptian society."

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish abbreviation AKP, have watched with horror what befell Morsi and his political allies.

In 2011, Erdogan and other AKP officials had championed their brand of moderate Islamist politics as a template for a democratizing Middle East, caught up in the upheavals of the Arab Spring. The Islamist electoral victories that followed, particularly in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous state, seemed to vindicate their position.

Four years later, though, and you won't hear much of the once-vaunted "Turkish" model.

That is, first, a consequence of the hideous turmoil that has flared in the region, from Iraq to Libya. Only little Tunisia can boast sustainable, democratic gains. In the case of Egypt, a hopeful revolution foundered during Morsi's divisive spell in power and now seems to be fully in reverse under Sissi.

It's also the result of the sheen wearing off Erdogan's long tenure. The AKP has dominated Turkish politics since it came to power in 2002, and is credited with lifting a whole swath of the country into the middle class through sweeping reforms of the economy and health system. Erdogan, a charismatic albeit demagogic leader, served three terms as prime minister and won election as Turkey's president last year. No figure in Turkish politics has had much of an impact on the country since Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the republic's founder.

But earlier this month, Erdogan suffered a blow when the AKP failed to secure a parliamentary majority in national elections. The outcome of the vote likely put to bed Erdogan's plan to scrap the country's existing parliamentary structure for a presidential system where he would have fewer checks and balances and a greater mandate for executive action. Turkey's four main parties are still wrangling over the formation of a new government.

Before the election, Erdogan, who as head of state technically was not supposed to participate in the AKP's campaign, brought up Morsi's plight during stump speeches. On May 16, the day Egyptian authorities originally handed down Morsi's death sentence, Erdogan addressed AKP supporters sympathetic to the cause of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

"Unfortunately, Egypt has given a death sentence to a president elected with 52 percent of the vote. Egypt is returning to the old Egypt," said Erdogan, referring to the decades of quasi-dictatorial rule under Mubarak. Not long thereafter, a pro-AKP newspaper ran a headline that read "Egypt's fate is tied to June 7," the date of the national elections in Turkey.

The issue here was not simply one leader's conspicuous support for a jailed politician elsewhere.

Both Egypt and Turkey have a long history of secular elites working hand in hand with a meddling army to quash dissent and suppress political Islam. And this history animates Erdogan's rhetoric and politics.

According to Ceren Kenar, a columnist for the Turkiye newspaper, the memory of Adnan Menderes -- a liberalizing Turkish prime minister who was friendlier to Islam than Ataturk and eventually overthrown and hanged by a military junta in 1961 -- haunts Erdogan's palace chambers.

Over the past decade, Erdogan has subdued Turkey's military, dismantled the state's old bureaucracy and chipped away at some of its secularist foundations. Earlier this month in Istanbul, one AKP supporter told me how liberated she felt being able to wear a headscarf -- a symbol of her piety and faith -- in public institutions where the garment was once banned. "I have real freedom," she said.

That sentiment of enduring Muslim grievance is vital to the AKP's narrative, say critics, despite all its years in government.

"Although Erdogan has been in power for 13 years, and has accumulated power unprecedented since the time of Ataturk, the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt provides him and his supporters a strong sense of victimhood," writes Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol.

Fear-mongering over foreign and domestic threats inflamed the AKP's election campaign last month, with pro-AKP newspapers blaring headlines that warned of a "crusader alliance" plotting Turkey's downfall. There was an implication that, just as the West and its regional proxies had tacitly allowed the coup against Morsi, they would now conspire to undermine the AKP's position of dominance.

When I asked Muhammed Akar, the AKP's chairman in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, about the effect of recent corruption scandals on the party as well as about wider concerns with Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style, he offered up a simple answer. Akar blamed my misconceptions of the situation in Turkey on "the international Jewish lobby," which apparently speaks through the Western media.

Most would rightly say this response simply reflects his ignorance and prejudice. But it also shows the mentality of a politician who, fully aware of cautionary tales of coups elsewhere, sees enemies constantly hovering in the shadows.

The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians

From The Washington Post:

There is an artificial line that splits the island of Hispaniola in two. On one side is Haiti, and on the other is the Dominican Republic.

There was a time when that split between the two countries was drawn with blood; the 1937 Parsley Massacre is widely regarded as a turning point in Haitian-Dominican relations. The slaughter, carried out by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, targeted Haitians along with Dominicans who looked dark enough to be Haitian -- or whose inability to roll the "r" in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley, gave them away.

The Dajabón River, which serves as the northernmost part of the international border between the two countries, had "risen to new heights on blood alone," wrote Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat.
 "The massacre cemented Haitians into a long-term subversive outsider incompatible with what it means to be Dominicans," according to Border of Lights, an organization that commemorated the 75th anniversary of the massacre in 2012.

Today, things are as tense on the island as they have been in years. Within days, the Dominican government is expected to round up Haitians — or, really, anyone black enough to be Haitian — and ship them to the border, where they will likely be expelled.

The government has described it as a "cleansing" of the country's immigration rolls.