Tag Archives: clinton

Full investigation now the only way to clear Trump White House on Russia quid pro quo

The now-famous mural of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius.

With national security advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation and new reporting from The New York Times that Trump campaign officials had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials, it is time to ask the fundamental question about this administration’s underlying weakness over Russia:

Was there a quid pro quo between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to help Trump win?

No one wants to believe this, of course, and it is an important moment to give Trump as many benefits of the doubt as possible. It is probably true that Trump would have defeated Hillary Clinton without any Russian cyber-shenanigans (though of course Richard Nixon would have easily defeated George McGovern in 1972 without ordering a break-in at the Watergate Hotel). It is also true that the leaks coming from the intelligence community could represent a serious threat to civil liberties, though it is not clear to me whether this information is coming directly from the intelligence community or secondhand from any number of potential investigations. There are many ‘known unknowns’ here, and there are potentially even more ‘unknown unknowns.’

But here is what we think that we know, as of February 15: Continue reading Full investigation now the only way to clear Trump White House on Russia quid pro quo

Pulling out of TPP: the first major foreign policy error of the Trump administration

The Trump administration today pulled out of the 12-nation TPP talks. (123rf / art1980)

Keeping a promise from his 2016 campaign, US president Donald Trump formally pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, a 12-nation trade and investment agreement in the works for nearly a decade.

Though the move will win plaudits from both the populist right and the anti-trade left (including Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate) Trump’s move is the first major unforced foreign policy error of the Trump administration. TPP opposition brings together an ascendant protectionist coalition that includes many of Trump’s populist supporters, but also many rust-belt and leftist Democrats and many organized labor officials.

In junking the US role in the TPP, a death knell for the trade accord, Trump has now cleared the way for the People’s Republic of China to set the baseline for trade rules across the Asia-Pacific region, negating hopes from the previous Obama administration to ‘pivot’ the country’s strategic and economic orientation toward the fast-growing region and backtracking on a decades-long bipartisan consensus that the United States takes an open and, indeed, leading approach to the ideal of free trade.

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RELATED: One reason for Americans to support TPP?
Absolving US sins in Vietnam

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Though the general terms of global trade will continue to be governed by the World Trade Organization, regional trade deals allow for countries to deepen trade ties in ways that go beyond the standard WTO rules and to develop strategic alliances.

Trump railed against the TPP from the earliest months of his presidential campaign, arguing that it gave China an unfair advantage:

The TPP is horrible deal. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.

But China was never a signatory to the TPP and, indeed, was never party to the 12-country talks that also included stalwart US allies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. The US national interest in negotiating and signing an agreement like the TPP would have been to create a trade paradigm in the region that seeks to help US interests in contrast to Chinese interests and, of course, to draw both traditional allies and new allies closer to the United States economically and strategically.

If anything, the TPP provided a framework to protect the United States from Chinese competition. To the extent that American manufacturing jobs have suffered as a result of international trade, and from trade with China, in particular, it has come from the decision in 2000 by a Republican Congress and Democratic president Bill Clinton to grant permanent normal trade relations to China (which had previously been subject to an annual congressional vote) and in 2001 to admit China to the WTO, lessening the ability of the United States to deploy protective tariffs against China.

Continue reading Pulling out of TPP: the first major foreign policy error of the Trump administration

Why Cameron should have waited until 2017 to hold the Brexit referendum

(pixelbliss / 123rf)

There’s no doubt that world politics in 2016 turned nationalist, anti-globalization and increasingly illiberal, and that’s clear from three touchstone elections — Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s election in May, the decision by British voters to leave the European Union in June and US president-elect Donald Trump’s victory in November. 

But what if the Brexit referendum didn’t even happen in 2016?

Timing is everything in politics and, when former UK prime minister David Cameron originally announced that he would concede a referendum on EU membership, the law that he and his Conservative-led government later enacted in the House of Commons specified that the referendum would be held no later than December 31, 2017. From 2013 throughout much of the 2015 general election campaign across Great Britain, many commentators and politicians assumed that Cameron would hold the referendum in 2017 — and not in 2016.

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RELATED: Leave campaign’s immigration emphasis
could trump Brexit economics

RELATED: In defense of David Cameron

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Only after Cameron’s surprisingly strong 2015 victory did his team seriously consider moving the referendum forward to June 2016, barely a year after the Conservative Party’s sweep to reelection.

At the time, the aggressive approach made a certain amount of sense. Cameron was at the height of his political popularity after the 2015 vote, and so the sooner Cameron could move beyond the European question, the better — and the better to end the uncertainty of a Brexit that began with the 2013 decision to hold a vote. A quicker (and shorter) campaign would give the ‘Leave’ camp less time to raise money and win voters that, though divided, seemed to edge toward the ‘Remain’ camp. Another recession, perhaps sparked by a new American administration or more troubles with European banks or debt, in particular, could dampen voter moods about EU matters.  Continue reading Why Cameron should have waited until 2017 to hold the Brexit referendum

Muhummad Yunus is exactly the person Clinton should have been meeting

Hillary Clinton met with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammed Yunus in Dhaka as US secretary of state. (AFP)
Hillary Clinton met with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammed Yunus in Dhaka as US secretary of state. (AFP)

It’s only Tuesday, but it has not been the best week for former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. USflagbangladesh flag icon

Just a day after reports that the FBI discovered nearly 14,900 emails that Clinton should have turned over as work-related emails to the State Department (she turned over 30,000 and marked the rest as private), the Associated Press reported on Tuesday afternoon that, in an analysis of 154 private individuals that Clinton met while secretary of state, 85 of them were at least one-time donors to the Clinton Foundation, an international health charity organization — if true, that means that around 55% of her meetings with non-government and non-foreign officials were with Clinton Foundation donors.

First, it’s unlikely that Clinton, in four years at State, met just 38 people on average annually from the private sector, so there’s so doubt about whether the AP’s denominator is accurate. Secondly, without any other proof, a meeting is not anything more than just a meeting, especially after a thoroughgoing investigation from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation almost certainly reviewed the question of quid pro quo corruption. Third, it’s credible that many private-sector actors (especially wealthy individuals with storied careers in academia, finance, technology or otherwise) might have given money to a high-profile charity like the Clinton Foundation. Finally, and most importantly, while Clinton is not exactly a paragon of government ethics, it beggars belief that she would sabotage her own obvious 2016 presidential hopes by engaging in crude pay-to-play corruption.

It’s true that both Hillary Clinton and her husband have both shown ridiculously poor ethical judgment when entrusted with power, and it was only in July that FBI director James Comey (narrowly) declined to recommend criminal charges for Clinton’s handling of classified information on a home server that she used for email while at State. Both Clintons, already wealthy from book royalties, have also shown reckless greed in taking millions of dollars in speech fees from corporate and foreign interests since leaving office.

But short of one truly horrific example, and a particularly immature staffer in Doug Band, there’s not a lot of scandal involving the Clinton Foundation. (The example, reported last year to surprisingly little fanfare, involves a murky Canadian financier named Frank Giustra, a leading figure in a sale of a uranium company, Uranium One, that won approvals from State and numerous other US agencies. The deal, ultimately, handed over rights of one-fifth of US uranium reserves first to Kazakh and then to Russian control).

By and large, the Clinton Foundation a charity that leverages the Clinton family’s name and experience toward better global health outcomes. In that sense, it’s no different, really, than the Carter Center or any other private-public effort that a former US president undertakes.

In politics, though, especially in the crucible of US election-year politics less than 80 days from a presidential election, reality is less important than perception. And Clinton most certainly has a perception problem with the Clinton Foundation and the idea that it’s become a pay-for-play racket. Moreover, the Clinton Foundation gets generally great marks from charity scorecard watchdogs like Charity Watch. Despite the phony statistics of right-wing news media, the Clinton Foundation spends an admirably 88% of donations on programming.

But the most especially ridiculous aspect of the latest uproar over the Clinton Foundation is that one of those 85 individuals that Clinton met is Muhammad Yunus, the former head of Grameen Bank. Frankly, it would have been diplomatic malpractice not for Clinton to have met Yunus during her time at State, when Yunus was increasingly under attack from his own government.

By 2011, Bangladesh’s increasingly autocratic and corrupt leader, Sheikh Hasina, had expelled Yunus and fully expropriated Grameen Bank. Though the Bangladeshi government once tried to accuse Yunus himself of embezzlement, it eventually ousted him from Grameen on the basis that, then at age 72, he exceeded the retirement age. Continue reading Muhummad Yunus is exactly the person Clinton should have been meeting

Is Hillary Clinton really a hawk?

Then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visits American troops in Tripoli in 2011. (US Embassy in Libya)
Then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visits American troops in Tripoli in 2011. (US Embassy in Libya)

In Vox on Tuesday, Jeremy Shapiro and Richard Sokolsky argued that, as president, Hillary Clinton would be too focused on her domestic political agenda to be too bothered with foreign policy, whether she’s really a hawk or a dove or [name your bird of prey].USflag

I worry that lets Clinton off the hook for some poor policy decisions over the course of her career, both as a senator from New York and as the nation’s leading diplomat as US secretary of state. After all, it was vice president Joe Biden who proclaimed in Jeffrey Goldberg’s famous piece for The Atlantic earlier this year on the ‘Obama doctrine’ that Hillary ‘Hillary just wants to be Golda Meir.’

That same profile gave us the following nugget into Clinton’s mind on international affairs:

Many people, I noted, want the president to be more forceful in confronting China, especially in the South China Sea. Hillary Clinton, for one, has been heard to say in private settings, “I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world dominated by the Chinese.”

Suffice it to say that, as the 45th president of the United States, Clinton wouldn’t quite welcome the end of unipolarity just yet.

But I also worry for another reason, summed up in four words by former British prime minister Harold MacMillan: ‘Events, dear boy, events.’ George W. Bush, until September 2001, wasn’t supposed to be a foreign policy president, either. You don’t choose your issues in the Oval Office; the issues choose you. (One reason, among many, why Donald Trump remains such a terrifying presidential nominee).

To steal a concept from Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution, who might be the only person left in the United States who’s managed to turn the 2016 general election into an exercise in intellectual growth, I’d like to engage in my own version. I’ll call it  ‘foreign policy hindsight 20/20 for me, but not for thee.’ Continue reading Is Hillary Clinton really a hawk?

A quick reaction to Bill Clinton’s DNC address

Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night in Philadelphia. (Facebook)
Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night in Philadelphia. (Facebook)

In some ways, it’s odd that we saw five nights of major-party conventions without a single former or current president or vice president willing to deliver an address — no Jimmy Carter (or Walter Mondale or Al Gore) at the Democratic convention, but also no George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush (or Dan Quayle or Dick Cheney) at the Republican convention at all.USflag

That all changed Tuesday night, when former president Bill Clinton, long accustomed to the spotlight, delivered an impassioned and highly personal address about his wife, Hillary Clinton, who on the same day became the first female nominee of a major political party in American history.

Maybe — just maybe — that ol’ Clinton magic could work just one more time. Continue reading A quick reaction to Bill Clinton’s DNC address

Libertarians nominate party’s 1st viable presidential ticket in US history

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson looks on during National Convention held at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Florida, May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski - RTX2EQ7N
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson looks on during National Convention held at the Rosen Center in Orlando, Florida, May 29, 2016. (Reuters / Kevin Kolczynski)

Will it be ‘groovy Gary’ or ‘goofy Gary’?USflag

With over five months to go in what’s already become a nasty presidential election, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hasn’t shied away from abusing his competitors, often giving them pejorative nicknames on Twitter and everywhere else on the campaign trail. Amused Americans might wonder whether Trump will welcome the Libertarian Party’s freshly minted 2016 presidential nominee, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, to the campaign with a similarly dismissive nickname as his other competitors — ‘low-energy’ Jeb Bush, ‘little’ Marco Rubio, ‘lyin” Ted Cruz and, most recently, ‘crooked’ Hillary Clinton.

The Libertarian Party nominated Johnson for a second consecutive time Sunday night at its national convention in Orlando, on a holiday weekend when most Americans were more concerned with summertime diversions than politics. But with Johnson leading the ticket, and with Libertarians, however reluctantly, nominating Johnson’s preferred running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, as its vice presidential candidate, the party has for the first time since its inception in 1972, nominated a viable presidential ticket.

A ‘Never Trump, Never Clinton’ option in all 50 states

No one disputes that it will be an uphill fight, though the Libertarian Party will likely be the only third party to make the presidential ballot in all 50 states. But, at least on paper, the Libertarian ticket looks formidable. Johnson is enough of an ‘outsider’ to harness the same kind of energy as Trump and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side of the race. For now, the Libertarian ticket is the only one with experience in executive government (not counting, of course, Clinton’s eight years in the East Wing as first lady).

Republican-leaning voters who believe Trump lacks the maturity, temperament, tone or experience for the Oval Office will be cheered by the shared ideological values with Libertarians, such as fiscal restraint and limited government. Democratic-leaning voters who mistrust Clinton will prefer the traditional Libertarian social liberalism on many cultural issues, such as abortion, LGBT marriage and drug decriminalization. Sanders supporters, in particular, who credibly hope that Sanders can defeat Clinton in the June 7 Democratic primary in California and who less credibly hope that Sanders can wrest the nomination from Clinton at July’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, will find in Johnson a kindred spirit. Johnson would be smart to target Millennial voters who overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and who even more overwhelmingly back Sanders against Clinton.

The ticket includes two proven vote-winners who, in aggregate, won four gubernatorial elections in the 1990s and the 2000s as ‘small-l’ libertarian Republicans in Democratic-leaning states. Even before his formal nomination and his decision to name Weld as a running mate, some polls were already showing that Johnson could win up to 10% of the vote in November. The most important polling threshold, however, is 15%, which would entitle Johnson and Weld to participate in the formal series of presidential and vice-presidential debates later this autumn that millions of American voters will watch. That, alone, would be an impressive achievement for the Libertarian Party.

Red governors in blue and purple states

Johnson, who briefly ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination before winning the Libertarian nomination in the same election cycle, served as the governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, coming to politics after a successful business career in construction. As governor, Johnson widely used veto powers to limit state spending and pushed for both marijuana decriminalization and education reform to introduce greater choice and competition among schools.

Johnson can point to his experience spent eight years governing a state with the most proportionally Latino/Hispanic population in the United States (47% as of the 2010 census). In 2016, Latino voters are expected to be crucial in determining the next president. It’s a group of voters than has grown from just 7.7 million in 1988 to 23.3 million in 2012 (and a projected 27.3 million in 2016). Johnson, an avid outdoorsman, Ironman enthusiast and mountain climber who has scaled Mt. Everest, can nevertheless be awkward and a bit wooden on the stump. But he radiates sincerity, and in a race against Trump and Clinton, neither of whom voters seem to like or to trust, his lack of bombast or glib soundbites could appeal broadly, especially among authenticity-craving Millennials.   Continue reading Libertarians nominate party’s 1st viable presidential ticket in US history

A few thoughts about the New York primary

Hillary Clinton strode to victory in New York, a state that twice elected her to the US senate in the 2000s. (Facebook)
Hillary Clinton strode to victory in New York, a state that twice elected her to the US senate in the 2000s. (Facebook)

The New York primaries are over, and it’s clear that they will be yuuuuuge victories for Republican frontrunner and businessman Donald Trump and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.new york flagUSflag

Of course, New York is central to both politicians’ careers. Trump built his real estate empire in New York City, and he launched his campaign from his now-iconic Trump Tower last summer. Clinton transitioned from activist first lady to public official when she won a seat in the US senate from New York in November 2000, a position she held through her presidential campaign in 2008.

Neither Clinton nor (especially) Trump will become their party’s presumptive nominee, but their victories most certainly give their opponents little comfort. Primaries next week in Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania do not seem likely to change the narrative.

One silver lining comes for Ohio governor John Kasich, who continues to wage a longshot campaign. He easily won second place last night, though Trump defeated him by a 60% to 25% margin. It will be good for at least some delegates, though, as Kasich took all of New York County, which corresponds to Manhattan.

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When will Texas senator Ted Cruz drop out, considering that he’s now playing such a spoiler role to Kasich? (I jest…)

California dreaming

Leaping ahead for a moment, though, it seems now obvious that the real fight for the Republican nomination will take place in California, which will go a long way in setting the stage for a convention where Trump, despite his stunning New York victory, is unlikely to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to clear a first-ballot victory.

California will, therefore, play an outsized role as the final major primary on June 7, just as Iowa and New Hampshire play outsized roles as first-in-the-nation contests.

Forget the delegate count for a moment. Continue reading A few thoughts about the New York primary

What Iowa taught us about the 2016 Democratic nomination race

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Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has to win over more of the ‘Obama 2008’ coalition if he really wants to win the 2016 Democratic nomination. (Facebook)

Earlier in January, I gamed out what I thought would be the more toughly fought of the 2016 primary fights — that on the Republican side. iowa flagUSflag

By and large, my analysis held up — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will both live to fight another day and a third candidate (Marco Rubio) will now have fresh momentum in New Hampshire to consolidate ‘establishment lane’ supporters.

Polls, in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side, showed a very tight race between Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and, as of this post, she’s up by 49.9% to 49.6%.

It’s great news for Clinton, because the Sanders campaign always seemed best fit to states like Iowa (and New Hampshire,  where Sanders is currently projected to win by a double-digit margin).

But 49.9% in a race for a former first lady, New York senator and the 2008 presidential runner-up? Losing by a nearly 4-to-1 margin among young voters, the future of the Democratic Party? Weak tea.

So Iowa is, essentially, a tie.

The most valuable lesson that we learned is that the 2016 election is not just a rerun of the 2008 election, a theory that’s become popular among some commentators.

Very broadly, in 2008, Obama crafted a coalition of three sets of voters: African Americans and Latinos, so-called ‘wine track’ white voters (typically higher income and professional) and the young, while Clinton attracted women and so-called ‘beer track’ white voters (typically lower income). Demographics were destiny, so much so that you could plausibly predict a primary’s winner in 2008 on the electorate demographics alone.

Last night showed that 2016 is scrambling those coalitions. Sanders is winning a dwindling contingent of ‘beer track’ voters (many of whom are trending Republican), a handful of ‘wine track’ voters and the young. Clinton is winning women, minorities and a plurality of ‘wine track voters.’ For example, Clinton leads among those who make over $100,000 in income, Sanders less than $50,000.

Each candidate in 2016 is winning around 50% of Obama’s 2008 supporters and around 50% of Clinton’s 2008 supporters:

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That makes relatively ‘whiter’ states like Iowa and New Hampshire fertile ground for Sanders; it’s a different story in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina, to say nothing of California or New York or Florida.

So his post-New Hampshire challenge will be to win over more ‘wine-track’ white voters and minorities.

Many voters still think Sanders doesn’t have the right experience to be president. But he has decades of legislative experience building relationships in Congress and, perhaps most importantly,  executive experience as Burlington’s mayor, where he governed as a pragmatic progressive, championing things like mixed-use housing, green space and bike paths — urban policies that seemed outlandish, perhaps, in the 1980s but are commonplace today. Sanders has left that record completely out of his campaign’s narrative.

Sanders has struggled to demonstrate his understanding, let alone commitment, to the priorities of the Black Lives Matter movement. But even in the second term of the first non-white US president, racial injustice remains stubbornly commonplace in American justice and economic systems, and Sanders must give racial inequities as prominent a role as income inequality if he wants to have any real chance at the nomination.

How Bernie Sanders blew an opportunity on health care reform

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Though Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is surging in some polls, the response to his universal ‘Medicare for all’ health care plan was mixed. (Facebook)

Bernie Sanders might just be the American version of Jeremy Corbyn after all. USflag

On the eve of Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Sanders, the Vermont senator with a self-proclaimed ‘democratic socialist’ charge to win the Democratic presidential nomination, released a more detailed plan for achieving universal health care. By its own terms, the Sanders plan would provide ‘Medicare for all,’ though it actually goes much further by eliminating co-pay and deductibles, adding to the sticker shock of a federal program that would cost $1.38 trillion annually. It also comes with huge tax increases that would give US citizens, in one fell swoop, higher tax rates than many ‘social welfare states’ in western Europe.

Many critics, including those on the left who should be sympathetic to achieving even more universal health care, have been skeptical.

Ezra Klein at Vox chides the Sanders plan for omitting details about how a single-payer system would be forced to deny many benefits and treatments, just as Medicare does today. Paul Krugman at The New York Times calls the Sanders plan an exercise in fantasy budgeting, arguing that it relies on wild assumptions about the savings it can achieve in health care spending through a single-payer system. Jonathan Chait at The New Yorker argues that the next president will invariably face a Republican-controlled House (if not Senate) and that introducing a single-payer system would be impossible.

All of these are valid, reasonable criticisms of the Sanders plan.

But if you really believe that president Barack Obama’s health care reforms are just one step on the way to universal health care and, like Sanders, you are committed to a single-payer system, there was always a much better policy plan:

Lower the eligibility age of Medicare from its current level (65 and older) to allow all Americans aged 55 or older to participate. 

It could have been, for Sanders, a beautiful political maneuver that would put both his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, and congressional Republicans on the defensive, all while having the benefit of being generally great policy.  Continue reading How Bernie Sanders blew an opportunity on health care reform

Eight things Americans should know about the Danish (and Nordic) welfare state

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Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate had barely started when the two leading contenders, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and US senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont immediately clashed.USflagdenmark flag

Over Denmark.

That’s right. Before Iran or Cuba, Syria or Russia, the US Democratic debate began with a minor tussle over a small Nordic country that’s home to just 5.614 million people.

From the beginning of his campaign, Sanders has called for a Nordic-style state that pays for single-payer health care, free education and other state-provided benefits, and he defended the Nordic model as a lodestar for US policy-making on Tuesday night:

Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

Clinton, for her part, argued that the Danish model wasn’t particularly well suited for the United States:

But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system.

Neither candidate necessarily went beyond a surface-level comparison with the Nordics, though.

When Sanders — a self-described ‘democratic socialist’ — refers to the Nordic model, he’s referring to a generic set of policies that describe a typically high-tax, high-services government that provides health care, education, child care, ample family leave, copious unemployment benefits and, in some cases, up to five weeks of annual vacation time for workers. It’s often described as a kind of hybrid system that melds elements of socialism and capitalism. Denmark proportionately spends more than 150% on social welfare spending than the United States — 30.1% of GDP, compared to the US standard of 19.2%.

Increasingly, however, across the Nordics, the rise of center-right and sometimes far-right groups have succeeded in reforming that understanding of the welfare state by trimming benefits and reducing taxes, all while pushing for policies that encourage innovation and easing business regulation. Today, there are center-right governments in four of the five Nordics (Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark), and an eight-year, reformist center-right government ended just last autumn in Sweden under the still-popular former prime minister Göran Persson. In three of those countries, governments rely on hard-right and often anti-immigrant parties to support their policy agendas.

Taken together, the Nordics — and that includes Denmark — are generally some of the happiest, wealthiest, most productive and surprisingly competitive in the global marketplace.

But the story of the Nordic model is much more complex and nuanced, and there are reasons why it might work better in northern Europe than elsewhere, including the United States.

Here are eight features of the Danish system, in particular, that help explain some of that context — both good and bad.

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1. Denmark has been ranked the ‘happiest country in the world’

In Danish culture, there’s a concept called hygge, and it’s said that there’s really not an English language translation for it — warmth, coziness, contentment.

It’s one of the elements that motivates the Danish welfare state, and it explains why, for many Danes, consumerism isn’t as important as spending time with family, working reduced hours and using more free time to pursue individual hobbies and non-professional lives.

That explains, perhaps, why a couple of years ago, Denmark was ranked the happiest country in the world.

But it also explains why peculiarly Danish or Nordic or European cultural features do not easily translate in a country like the United States, and why policies based on Danish cultural attributes might not be nearly as popular in the American context.

2. Its reformed welfare state is actually pro-business

The fact of a strong welfare system isn’t necessarily incompatible with a pro-business orientation. As Marian Tupy wrote earlier for the Cato Institute, Denmark today is ranked as an easier place to do business than the United States, boasts a freer trade regime and slightly outpaces the United States on economic freedom.

Companies like Mærsk dominate global shipping, and Danske Bank is a key financial operator throughout northern Europe. But Denmark’s system has also unleashed as much creativity as commercialism. LEGO is a Danish concept, and the country spawned an entire school of designers in the mid 20th century Denmark, most notably the architect Arne Jacobsen. Today, there’s no more cutting-edge trend in cuisine than the ‘new Nordic’ cuisine, and its hub is Copenhagen, which is home to several Michelin-starred restaurants.

It’s true, however, that the Danish welfare state isn’t your father’s Nordic welfare state. Since the 1970s, successive center-right governments, including that of prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the 2000s, have tried to freeze tax increases or even lower taxes in certain cases, especially for business. Despite the enduring popularity of the Danish welfare state, Danes are increasingly aware of the demands that an aging population will make. So far, reforms include an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 gradually over the next eight years, a decrease in the limit for unemployment benefits from four years to just two and certain limits on grants provided to students.

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3. It gets nearly 50% of its electricity from wind power

Environmentalists also take much delight with Denmark. It was a leading developer of wind power as a renewable energy source in the 1980s, and today wind power amounts to 39% of Denmark’s total electricity consumption — and that’s set to rise to 50% within five years. On some particularly windy days, Denmark meets up to 140% of its total electricity needs.

Though the results of Denmark’s renewable energy program give heart to environmentalists, they should also perk up capitalists as well. Wind power is now big money, at least for Denmark, despite the highly subsidized start-up costs of building offshore wind farms. Moreover, its push to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels resulted from a sense of conservative prudence from the aftermath of the 1970s oil shocks.

4. Education, even for adults, is an important public value

One of Denmark’s national heroes is the 19th century philosopher Nikolaj Gruntvig, who is credited with formulating Denmark’s national education theory. That translated, from the 1840s onward, a dedication to the value of public education in Denmark. Even today, Denmark has a tradition of the folkehøjskole, or ‘folk high school,’ where adults can return to education to obtain new skills for their careers or even just for fun or for post-retirement intellectual stimulation.

That’s one of the reasons that free education is such a cherished value in Denmark. But it also shows that the roots of the Nordic welfare system are often centuries in the making. Unlike, say, in the United Kingdom, where universal government-run health care was a postwar phenomenon, the ingredients of the Danish welfare system lie in the rise of social democratic and agrarian political movements in the 19th century, and the communal spirit of compromise and reform goes back to the 18th century of beyond.

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5. Freedom of information is key to government transparency

Scandinavian countries were some of the first countries to enact freedom-of-information laws. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act dates back to 1766, for example, and Nordic countries have generally pushed to expand the European Union’s freedom-of-information directives more widely. Denmark’s most recent law, the Access to Public Administration Files Act, even includes certain private and public energy suppliers in the scope of what’s covered.

That comes with its own benefits. Denmark ranked first in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruptions Perception Index — the United States ranked just 17th, far behind Denmark, Finland (3rd), Sweden (4th) and Norway (5th). The ethos of good government and transparency infuses every level of government (and it’s one of the motivating themes of the hit television series Borgen, a three-season show about the personal and professional lives of Danish politicians and journalists).

The perception that the Nordics are an essentially corruption-free zone are another reason why businesses are so keen on relocating there.

But it’s also the kind of place where an official like Clinton would never be able to get away with keeping a secret server, unbeknownst to the Obama administration, to conduct official and unofficial state business alike.

6. Family leave policies are quite generous

In Denmark, parents receive a full year of maternity and paternity leave — mothers are guaranteed 18 weeks and fathers are guaranteed two weeks, with a further 32 weeks to be split up as between the two parents as they see fit. That’s aside from a guarantee of up to five weeks of vacation time annually for workers.

Though no one expects Sanders (or anyone else, for that matter) to introduce single-payer health care to the United States, there is a growing sense that the United States should offer at least some basic parental leave. American workers currently have no federal guarantee of maternity or paternity leave nor do they have a right to vacation leave — something that makes the United States an extreme outlier throughout the developed world.

This is one area where there’s cause for optimism. If Clinton, as widely expected, wins the Democratic nomination, she will be well-placed as the first female nominee of a major party to make this a chief policy priority. There’s a great symbolism in the notion that the first American woman in the presidency will also implement the first universal maternity leave policy.

But it’s an issue that could resonate with conservatives as well. In the United Kingdom, prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party campaigned on extending tax credits for child care. Though he ultimately abandoned it, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, also a conservative, campaigned in 2013 on expanding paid parental leave. Certainly, social conservatives and Christian voters who value strong families might also champion a policy. It’s one area where, in an increasingly polarized political scene, both Republicans and Democrats might come to agree.

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7. The population is more homogeneous —
and far less welcoming to immigrants

One of the theories behind the Nordic model’s success is that countries like Denmark have greater civic trust because they have small and, on the whole, homogeneous populations. That’s one of the reasons that critics say a Nordic-style approach would never work in such a sprawling and heterogeneous place like the United States.

But that also points to one of the darker sides of Danish policy.

Only recently, Denmark’s center-right government made global headlines for its unwelcoming attitude to mostly Muslim refugees arriving on European shores. It went so far as to take out Arabic-language advertisements in Lebanese newspapers noting that family reunification might not be possible and that public assistance for immigrants is now lower.

The message is clear — Denmark is not a particularly welcoming place for immigrants. Denmark, notably, opted out of the migration quota system agreed among the vast majority of EU nations earlier this year. In early December, Danes will vote in a referendum that could see the country ‘opt-out’ of certain justice and home affairs standards.

The anti-Islam and anti-migrant Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) won more votes in the recent June 2015 snap elections than any other party, with the exception of former prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s center-left Socialdemokraterne (Social Democrats). As the Social Democrats’ left-wing allies lost votes, it remained for the third-placed center-right Venestre to form a minority government under current prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who depends on the People’s Party as well as other smaller center-right parties to govern.

The rise of the Danish far-right (and the Scandinavian far-right in general) has pushed both of the major parties toward less migrant-friendly positions. Even Thorning-Schmidt tried to co-opt that message earlier this year with billboards proclaiming that migrants to Denmark would have to find work.  One of Rasmussen’s first actions as prime minister was to enact, in August, on a highly divided vote, a measure that cuts benefits by 45% for immigrants who have not lived in Denmark for seven of the last eight years.

Sweden, which remains far more welcoming of migrants, especially Syrians and others from outside the European Union, has not responded to the refugee crisis with the same level of closed-mindedness as the Danish. Nevertheless, growing antipathy toward immigrants (in Denmark and Sweden alike) and increasingly multicultural Nordic populations will certainly test the ‘homogeneity theory’ in the years ahead.

8. There’s not just ‘one’ Nordic model

Generally speaking, it’s a mistake to refer to a single Nordic model, because the five countries that comprise the Nordics are actually very different. Denmark and Sweden, on one hand, spent much of the past half-millennium as colonial powers. Norway, Iceland and Finland, on the other hand, spent much of the past half-millennium as subjugated colonies — Iceland won its independence from Denmark only in 1944, and Norway won its independence from Sweden in 1905. Today, that filters through culture and geography — Stockholm and Copenhagen are imperial cities, while Oslo and Helsinki are not.

Norway’s vast oil wealth, in particular, makes it a special case that has elements of other Nordic states, but also the problems that many petrostates face. Finland’s longtime relationship with Russia gives it a certain sensibility in European geostrategic matters (and that explains why both it and Sweden are still not members of NATO).

Neither Iceland nor Norway are members of the European Union, lest their rich fish stocks be subject to competition from Spanish and Greek fishermen. While Finland is a member of the eurozone, both Denmark and Sweden have retained their own national currencies and control over their monetary policy.

All of which is to say that even Scandinavians can’t agree on which ingredients are most key to their ‘model’ — and that makes its export outside the northern European context all the more difficult.

Primakov’s legacy lives on in aggressive Russian foreign policy

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In an alternative universe, with just a twist in Russian politics, Yevgeny Primakov might have died, at age 85 late last month, as his country’s president.Russia Flag Icon

Instead, he’ll be known for what the international community remembers as ‘Primakov’s loop’ — his order that a Washington-bound plane across the mid-Atlantic reverse course and turn back to Moscow upon hearing the news that the United States had launched military action against Russia’s ally Serbia in 1999. Though it was ultimately a nationalist gesture that did nothing to stop the eventual NATO-led action in Serbia and the de facto independence of Kosovo, it was the highlight of Primakov’s turbulent nine-month tenure as prime minister.

Russian president Boris Yeltsin turned to Primakov in a moment of crisis, after the collapse of the Russian ruble and an economic collapse that left the once-proud country even more at the mercy of international institutions. Despite narrowly winning reelection over a cast of misfits, nationalists and washed-up communists in 1996, Yeltsin failed in his second term to restore the kind of economic prosperity that capitalism seemed so loftily to promise in the heady days following the Soviet Union’s breakup. Privatization of public industries amounted to a botched firesale of national assets, delivering wealth into the hands of a few lucky and well-placed businessmen who made obscene fortunes in the process.

A former spook who started his career as a writer for Pravda in Cairo in the 1960s, Primakov would become the chief Russian strategic on Middle East affairs across a career that spanned the Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev eras, reached its apex under a wary Yeltsin and concluded with a turn as Russia’s chief envoy to Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 US invasion. Primakov, not surprisingly, vociferously opposed US military action and had nurtured a decades-long relationship with Iraq’s president Saddam Hussein. Continue reading Primakov’s legacy lives on in aggressive Russian foreign policy

What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

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Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders proudly claimed that American economic policy should look more like Scandinavia’s.United Kingdom Flag Icon

But for Republican presidential hopefuls, it might be more fruitful to turn their gaze slightly to the south of Scandinavia — to the United Kingdom, where Conservative prime minister David Cameron won an unexpectedly robust victory in last Thursday’s general election. Not only did Cameron stave off predictions of defeat by the center-left Labour Party, his Tories won an absolute (if small) majority in the House of Commons, increasing his caucus by 24 MPs. This, in turn, will allow Cameron to govern for the next five years without a coalition partner. That’s all well and good considering that the Liberal Democrats lost 48 of their 56 seats in Parliament.

It’s rare, in a parliamentary system, for a government to win reelection with even greater support, let alone after five years of budget cuts and economic contraction that transformed into GDP growth only in the last two years. Margaret Thatcher was the last prime minister to do so in 1983, and that followed her stupendous victory against Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982.

For U.S. conservatives, Cameron’s victory in winning the first Tory majority since 1992 should provide a road map for the kinds of policies that can pave the way to a GOP victory in 2016. Republicans know that they’ve won a popular vote majority just once since 1988, and demographic changes are making the Republican presidential coalition more elderly, white and rural in an increasingly young, multiracial and urban society.

Cameron benefitted from smart political strategy that painted Labour, fairly or unfairly, as untrustworthy stewards of the British economy. He also appealed to the fears of English voters in warning that a Labour government, propped up by votes from the pro-independence Scottish National Party, would amount to a “coalition of chaos” in Westminster. Cameron also benefitted from doubts among British voters about Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, who pulled Labour to the left of Tony Blair’s third-way “New Labour”centrism and who never seemed to fit the role of potential prime minister.

Nevertheless, there are at least three areas where Republicans could replicate Cameron’s agenda and, potentially, turn the tables on Democrats in 2016. Continue reading What Republicans could learn from Cameron’s Conservatives

Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

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The most notable thing about former British prime minister Tony Blair’s sudden reappearance in the United Kingdom’s domestic politics, with just under a month to go until a general election, is that no one particularly noticed his absence from domestic political matters.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Unlike former US president Bill Clinton, who has balanced his financial and philanthropic activities with lingering, widespread popularity on the American political scene, Blair’s popularity diminished after he left 10 Downing Street. Still well-regarded abroad, Blair has offered his consulting services to leaders from Albania to Kazakhstan, and he’s become a wealthy man in the process, a much more controversial proposition for a former British prime minister than a former US president. Blair suffers further by contrast to his successor, Gordon Brown, who quietly receded from public view when he lost the premiership in 2010, resurfacing only to promote a dense policy book or to campaign full-heartedly against Scottish independence. There’s a sense that Brown hasn’t ‘cashed out’ the way that Blair did.

Though current prime minister David Cameron has attempted to blame both Blair and Brown for wasteful government spending as a prelude to his own government’s budget cuts, it is Blair’s role in the US-led invasion of Iraq that haunts his legacy. Blair only recently left his position as an envoy for the Middle East ‘quartet’ (the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia), where his impact in the region has been negligible at best. Despite high hopes when he assumed the role shortly after leaving office, Blair is unlikely to lead any grand gestures in the Middle East.

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RELATED: Analyzing the British leaders’ debate

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Blair rode to victory in May 1997 on a landslide wave proclaiming the arrival of his center-oriented ‘New Labour.’ Though he capitalized then on a popular, youthful image, he is largely reviled in Great Britain today, as Sarah Ellison wrote in a scathing Vanity Fair profile earlier this year:

A man with aspirations to global leadership—even to global moral leadership—is now regarded by many of his countrymen as a shill for big corporations and deep-pocketed and dubious regimes. In terms of personal wealth, Blair is said to be worth an estimated £100 million ($150 million), a figure he denies. Today, Blair rarely makes public appearances in London. In 2010, he canceled a book party to celebrate the publication of his memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, to avoid the inevitable protests. Blair wasn’t invited to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Last January, a London waiter attempted a citizen’s arrest of Blair for alleged war crimes arising from the invasion of Iraq.

Last month, two Labour candidates actually refused to accept £1000 donations from Blair, who had pledged £106,000 to candidates in marginal seats.

When Blair surfaced in domestic politics at all, it was usually to snipe at his successor as Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, whose leadership campaign narrowly defeated his brother, David Miliband, the more Blairite alternative. As recently as January, Blair was obliquely warning Miliband to run to the center in advance of the May 7 general election, via an interview with The Economist: Continue reading Blair role virtually non-existent as UK campaign heats up

The case for O’Malley in the 2016 presidential election

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The most damning thing that you can say about former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley isn’t that he was underwhelming, either as governor or as Baltimore mayor.marylandUSflag

It’s that we were merely whelmed by him.

Even today, as O’Malley prepares to become the most serious challenger to former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, there’s not a whole lot you can pin on O’Malley, for good or for ill. He lacks the psychopolitical baggage of a Clinton candidacy, but he also doesn’t own any single issue or represent any broader movement. He’s a set of technocratic biceps with a penchant for data-driven policy and Celtic rock.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, though. Formidable as Clinton is, O’Malley has all the tools to wage a compelling campaign for the US presidency.
Continue reading The case for O’Malley in the 2016 presidential election