Tag Archives: personal

How I view American politics (and the Trump administration) today

The ‘religious freedom’ executive order was a cheap photo opportunity, a publicity stunt; it doesn’t (yet) rewrite the Internal Revenue Code and constitutionally, it cannot.

The American Health Care Act passed the House of Representatives, narrowly, by a 217 to 213 margin today, too, but it certainly will not survive the Senate in its current form, which was denounced by every group from the American Medical Association to the AARP. That’s quite clear from Orrin Hatch, let alone moderate Republicans like Susan Collins.

Repeal of much of the Dodd-Frank Act, the financial services reform, is making its way through the House — and may also pass the House, but unless the Senate eliminates the legislative filibuster, Republicans will be hard-pressed to find 60 votes in the Senate, where Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, whose chief policy legacy is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will surely stand for hours to filibuster her way to national political stardom.

Meanwhile, Trump (though he had a temper tantrum about a shutdown) and the GOP caved on a budget that looks very much like something Hillary Clinton would have approved.

Good luck to Trump in solving Puerto Rico’s impending bankruptcy and a pending referendum on statehood in two months.

Nikki Haley, James Mattis and H.R. McMaster (the latter replacing an erratic national security advisor fired in disgrace just 20 days into the administration)  are ignoring the lunacy of Trump’s unthinking blather, contradicting him in plain sight and driving a sane foreign policy not dissimilar to Obama-era policy: pro-NATO, cautious of Russia, ambitious to look to the Pacific, reluctant to get bogged down in the Middle East. (Yeah, yeah, Israeli-Palestinian peace is so easy, Don). As Haley and Mattis, in particular, travel the world putting out Trump’s fires, allies (and rivals) are learning not to take seriously the words of the sitting American president. It takes something to kick an Australian prime minister twice in four months. For months — years! — NATO was obsolete; then, all of a sudden, ‘NATO is no longer obsolete.’ At this point, I almost expect Trump to try to renegotiate NAFTA by extending it to South American and Asia and calling it the ‘Trump Pacific Partnership.’

If you could forget (for one millisecond) just how much is at stake for the lives and livelihoods and safety of so many Americans (to say nothing of South Koreans, Japanese, Europeans and so on), it would be endearing, even touching, to watch a president learn what the job entails in real time. It’s a ‘teachable moment,’ as one former certain president liked to say. For Trump’s hard-core nationalist supporters, the first 100 days must have felt like a Schoolhouse Rock. Policy — from Chinese relations to US health care reform — is indeed harder than you thought.

I don’t doubt the challenges ahead for those of us who oppose Trump. Immigrants are terrified, and there are reasons for women, people of color, LGBT Americans and the poorest among us to be especially anxious. I will not minimize the ugliness and the divisiveness that Trump has single-handedly brought into American political discourse.

But today was (mostly) smoke, not fire, and it seems like House Republicans put themselves on record supporting a deeply divisive bill that will never become law — without so much as a CBO score. They may pay dearly in 2018. That’s still a long ways off.

For now, Obamacare is still intact (though, yeah, it has some flaws that need fixed). So is the Johnson Amendment. So is the EPA. So is the Export-Import Bank. So is USAID. So is State. So is the FBI (which continues to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian intelligence). So are all our institutions, even if they have no political appointees.

The not-quite-a-Muslim ban was halted twice by federal courts, and so many eyes are on Trump that he’s deported fewer immigrants (so far) than Obama. Not a single brick of border wall is built (it’s an idiotic idea anyway for anyone who understands modern air travel), and Mexico is certainly not going to pay. Though Trump may outrage Mexicans enough that they elect a leftist populist of their own in 2018.

Meanwhile, sensible tax reform (including lower corporate rates and some form of repatriation), Trump’s oft-promised infrastructure spending and Ivanka Trump’s promise of universal maternity leave — all of which would have been top priorities in a Clinton administration, working with House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, now seem farther than ever from being enacted.

Governing is tough work, and the Trump administration has no clue how to do it.

Reince Preibus, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn — they are all competing for Trump’s ear, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office. But they share in common this: none of them had a day’s experience in government before January 20. Rex Tillerson, whose sole experience is with one company — Exxon-Mobile — still doesn’t even have a deputy secretary of state, let alone anyone else to guide him.

Every day, the novelty of Trump’s blather on Twitter wears off, as do the outlandish remarks showing just how little respect he has for American history and the American presidency (‘no one asks why the Civil War was fought,’ come on). As on The Apprentice, he’s doing a great job pretending like he’s in charge, running things. Hell, I don’t care how much he golfs. I don’t care how many times he throws fake Rose Garden parties for fake legislative accomplishments, spews fake facts about the world and his administration, all while whining about fake news. There’s one statistic from which Trump can never hide: 28.1 million watched the Season 1 finale of The Apprentice. By the last season, that shrank to just 4.5 million, as the schtick wore off and viewers grew bored.

Savor that, at least, tonight, on a day of such venom, hubris and pain.

When Barack Obama was president, I wrote often about his flaws on foreign policy, and I certainly would have done the same with Hillary Clinton — or Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or John Kasich.

If and when the Trump administration scores a major foreign policy or diplomatic victory, I’ll be the first to applaud.

But I’ll never relent. Trumpismo and its empty know-nothing populism is a fraud, and it has been since June 2015 — most of all to the voters who elected Trump to the most important elective office in the world’s largest economic and military power.

For those of us — conservatives, liberals, libertarians — who have always been #NeverTrump, keep up the fight, each in our own ways, for a government that works to maximize economic and cultural opportunity for all. And let’s take a moment, on such a dreary day for the American republic, to love one another and continue seeking ways to bring Americans back together, with a government in 2018 and 2020 that we can respect again.

Some thoughts on Japan

Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood at nighttime.
Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood at nighttime.

Readers will note Suffragio‘s sparse publication schedule over the Memorial Day holiday and the following week. Japan

That’s because I’ve been traveling in Japan (for the first time, though not the first time in Asia), and though I had been planning to scale down my writing on world politics, I hadn’t expected to spend quite so much time walking, talking, eating, drinking and exploring in a culture in which I’ve tried to immerse myself, at least as time has allowed, in the three months leading to the trip. I hope to spend much of the rest of the summer continuing to learn more about the country’s history, food and, above all, its cinema. (And, of course, its politics — senatorial elections are coming quickly in August).

A bamboo grove on the outskirts of Kyoto.

In any event, everyone needs a break from world politics, especially in an American presidential election year that’s atypically unpredictable. There’s only so much one can write about Brexit.

If interesting, here are some of my thoughts about 11 days in Japan.

The train rolls up before 6:30 am in rural Mie peninsula.
The train rolls up before 6:30 am in rural Mie peninsula.

The best infrastructure in the world. I am tempted to say that the United States could benefit from Japan’s counter-occupation for a few years. I understand why Japan, which has a smaller area and a denser population (especially on Honshu, the most populous island), has a more plausible rationale for a high-speed rail network than the United States. But to come from Washington, D.C., where the Metro system is experiencing dangerous fires and unimaginable levels of dysfunction, the sophistication of Japan’s infrastructure is staggering by contrast. Japan’s 1990s-era bullet trains were faster than today’s Acela Express, the so-called ‘high speed’ train that runs from Boston to Washington. Continue reading Some thoughts on Japan

Suffragio takes a break — until next week


Suffragio is on hiatus for the next week — I’ll have extremely minimal access to the Internet, and I’ll be busy meeting new friends in a new place.

In the meanwhile, there’s going to be quite a bit of electoral politics to watch:

  • Ireland Ireland Iconvotes on May 22 in a referendum to permit same-sex marriage. If polls are correct, it would mark the first time an entire country chooses by direct vote to legalize marriage equality. Ireland, however, remains a socially conservative country where the Catholic church’s influence is strong. Abortion was essentially legalized only in 2013, and there’s every possibility that anti-marriage forces could win an upset. Polls may not be accurately capturing ‘shy’ anti-LGBT voters and, although there’s a majority of Irish voters in favor of marriage equality, it might not be as motivated as anti-marriage voters.
    RELATED: Scotland passes same-sex marriage,
    joining England and Wales
  • Ethiopia votes oethiopia_640n May 24 in what it calls an election. But there’s no indication that the vote will be free and fair, especially in a government climate that disrespects press freedom and has suppressed Oromo and other ethnic groups. Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a southerner, is the nominal successor to the late Meles Zenawi, but there’s no real indication he is anything more than a figurehead. Meles’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, or የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝቦች አብዮታዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ግንባር) and, in particular, Tigray figures within its leadership, continue to call the shots.
    RELATED: Can Hailemariam retain power in Ethiopia?
  • Poland vPoland_Flag_Iconotes on May 24 in a runoff to determine the chiefly ceremonial president. Polish president Bronisław Komorowski narrowly trailed his conservative rival Andrzej Duda in the first round on May 10, with over 20% of voters choosing neither candidate and instead supporting former rock musician Paweł Kukiz. The two contenders are now facing a too-close-to-call runoff. If Komorowski loses (and even if he narrowly wins reelection), it could mean trouble for the ruling Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), which has held power since 2007.
    RELATED: Komorowski trails in shock Polish presidential vote result
    RELATEDKopacz puts imprint on Poland’s new government
  • Spain holds regSpain_Flag_Iconional elections on May 24, a harbinger of December’s general election, in 13 of its 17 autonomous communities. The most populous include Madrid, Valencia and Castile and León. The elections will be a test for the two traditional Spanish parties, prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party) and the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party), which have both presided over difficult economic conditions and budget contractions in the past six years. It’s also a test for two newer groups that hope to displace them, the anti-austerity, leftist Podemos and the centrist  Ciudadanos (C’s, Citizens).
    RELATED: Socialists thrive in Andalusian regional elections

Upon return, on May 26, I’ll have some brief thoughts on each election and, in particular, Ethiopia, which is one of the most fascinating and dynamic countries in sub-Saharan Africa today, even if its political system remains essentially authoritarian.

On May 31, Italy holds regional elections in several parts of the country, including some of the largest Italian regions like Puglia, Campania, Tuscany and Veneto.

The most important elections of the summer come on one day — June 7. That’s when Mexico holds midterm congressional elections and Turkey holds parliamentary elections.

It’s still a quiet spring and summer for electoral politics after the blitz of 2014’s elections. But there’s still much to look forward to later this autumn — from Guatemala to Canada, from Burma/Myanmar to  Denmark and from Portugal to Argentina. And the lull in electoral politics will provide a chance to delve into the fascinating political dynamics of China and the Middle East — just because a country doesn’t have elections doesn’t mean it doesn’t have politics. Suffragio will be there for all of it.

In the meanwhile…

Suffragio’s weekend break


WILKESBORO, N.C. — With apologies, Suffragio has been somewhat amiss over the past few days. That’s because I’ve been in the depths of western North Carolina exploring American and bluegrass music at the Merlefest festival in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that commemorates Doc Watson and his son, Merle Watson and exploring, in part, the Irish roots of bluegrass music from Kentucky. Wireless access, to say nothing of electricity, has been spotty. But I have some definite thoughts to share about the state of old-time mountain music, bluegrass and Piedmont blues. Ted Gioia, eat your heart out. NC

Not to worry, I’ll have some thoughts soon about the Macedonian election results, the race for South Korea’s new prime minister, the latest on Afghanistan’s election and Serbia’s new government.

I’ll also have some thoughts on South Africa, Iraq, Panama and, as usual, more on India and upcoming European parliamentary elections. If there’s been a Suffragio lull over the weekend, rest assured that the best is coming as I am tanned, rested and ready for the crescendo of May’s world elections — India, EU, and beyond.

Initial thoughts on Nairobi and Kenya



After a weekend off-grid at Amboseli National Park hanging out with giraffes and elephants, I’m back in Nairobi.kenya

I’ll have some thoughts soon on Bosnian protests, the latest turn with Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and Lebanon’s new government — and I’m watching closely to see how Italy’s new prime minister-designate Matteo Renzi will roll out his new government.

In the meanwhile, what to make of Kenya?

In December, Kenya celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom.  There’s a distinctly British imprint to just about everything here — more so than in other former British colonies I’ve visited.  Kenya feels more ‘British’ than English-speaking Canada in some ways.  There’s a slavishness to form-over-substance rules here that unintentionally facilitates bribery and corruption.

The best food isn’t in the ‘best’ restaurants, which prioritize ambience over food quality.  Seek out Indian food — in small stalls on the street or in shopping centers, not in restaurants.  The best traditions of Kenyan food involve fusion with Indian or Arab influences along the Swahili coast.  In Nairobi, it’s easy to find food like chapati (thin, doughy flatbreads), and all sorts of other Indian-influence treats, like masala chips, samosas and spiced chai.  Ugali, a blanched cornmeal paste that often serves as the main carbohydrate/starch component in Kenyan meals, makes Caribbean food staples seem flavorful by contrast.

There’s not a lot of investment in public goods, and much of Nairobi is hidden away behind walls and barbed wire — more so than in places like Caracas and Tegucigalpa in Latin America.  Public parks do exist, but the high incidence of petty crime means that virtually no one goes there.  Nonetheless, there’s more vibrancy in the city’s center than I expected, and the city isn’t without its charms — its year-round spring-like climate is one of the world’s most pleasant.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been reading One Day I Will Write About This Place, which has taught me as much about post-independence Kenya as any non-fiction books I’ve read about the county (Daniel Branch’s 2011 book is a great place to start, though).  That Binyavanga Wainaina, its author, recently came out as an openly gay man adds a new level of depth to his work.  But One Day is less an LGBT memoir than a period look at Daniel arap Moi’s increasingly authoritarian Kenya of the 1970s and 1980s.  There’s something interesting on just about every page — for instance, the decrepit state of Kenya’s once-strong railways, is explained through ethnic politics.  Kikuyu businessmen close to former president Jomo Kenyatta won preferential treatment for trucking contracts; railways, where the competing Luo ethnic group controlled access to jobs, were left to languish. Continue reading Initial thoughts on Nairobi and Kenya

Off to Africa

I depart tonight for Nairobi for two weeks in east Africa visiting friends and other colleagues — I hope to see quite a bit of Kenya (including Nairobi and Lamu, on the Swahili coast), as well as Kampla, Entebbe and parts of Uganda.kenyauganda

Accordingly, posts will be a little sparse or perhaps uneven through the end of February, depending on Internet access.

Despite the impending change in the Italian government, there are no elections on the horizon through the rest of February, so it’s a good time to be out-of-pocket — especially as we gear up for elections through the spring and early summer in India, Indonesia, South Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, three countries in Central America, Colombia, Paris, Serbia, Hungary and the European parliamentary vote.

In the meanwhile, to the extent any of you have tips for Kenya and/or Uganda — in terms of restaurants, sites, or contacts, by all means shoot me a message at klees81 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Toncontín blues: of airports and infrastructure in Honduras


I’ve now flown into Tegucigalpa’s main airport, Toncontín, twice — once in a Embraer 190 and again in a small puddle-jumper from Roatán, part of the Bay Islands that lie just off Honduras’s North Coast.honduras flag icon

Frankly, I was expecting a much more eventful landing from everything I’d been led to believe.

Even with an expanded runway as of May 2009, Toncontín has quite a bit of notoriety — its difficult approach and relatively short runway makes it one of the world’s trickiest airports.  Opened in 1934, Toncontín featured just a 6,112-foot runway and, as expanded, it features a single runway extended to over 7,000 feet. That’s not incredibly short, necessarily — it compares to the runways at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

The problem is that Teguicgalpa is a valley that lies within essentially a 360-degree ring of mountains.  So as you approach Toncontín, you approach a ridge of mountains that swiftly gives way to the valley, with sprawl following soon thereafter.  The approach takes a broad right turn that follows a counterclockwise swirl around the valley, followed by a sharp left, counterclockwise turn as you descend.  It’s a little jarring, but no more so than landing, say, essentially along the water — just like at LGA or DCA — where you descend slowly into the water until at the last moment you hit the runway.


But it’s caused problems in the past — in May 2008, TACA Flight 390 overran the runway and crashed into a street.  The accident killed just five people, but it highlighted the dangers of Toncontín, which is routinely called one of the world’s most dangerous airports.  The TACA incident is one of a dozen of such accidents since the 1960s.

I mention Toncontín because it’s a huge infrastructure issue — historically, getting into and out of the Honduran capital has been more difficult than, say, flying into Managua or Panamá City.  That’s not in itself a reason for financial centers to develop there and not in Tegucigalpa, but it doesn’t help.

In fact, it’s an issue of unfinished business from the former administration of Manuel Zelaya, whose push to extend Toncontín’s runway was completed in May 2009, just a month before the coup that ousted him from office (for reasons other than his infrastructure goals).  But when he was pushed from power, Zelaya hoped to open a new airport at Soto Cano Air Force Base, which US military personnel have been using for decades, most infamously in the 1980s when the United States backed Contra forces based in Honduras against the Soviet-backed Nicaraguan Sandinistas — it’s also known as Palmerola, and it’s closer to Honduras’s old capital before 1880, Comayagua, and to Honduras’s second city San Pedro Sula.

But since Zelaya’s ouster, the airport move has been a less pressing issue.  Though Honduras’s outgoing right-wing president Porfirio Lobo Sosa has confirmed the long-term goal of moving the capital’s major international airport from Toncontín to Palmerola, it’s still nowhere near fruition.

Blogging note: Tegucigalpa


I’m off to Tegucigalpa to do some original reporting in advance of the Honduran general elections that take place on November 24.el salvador

In the meanwhile, there may be fewer posts at Suffragio over the next week or so and the posts that I do write will invariably be about Honduras as I spend some time in the country and meet some of its people.  I’ll be looking to get a sense of what each of the three major candidates and their campaigns are doing, what academics, reporters and everyday Hondurans think about the election campaign, and the past, present and future of bilateral US-Honduran relations.

If any readers out there have any tips for how best to enjoy Honduras — especially Tegucigalpa and southern Honduras and/or Roatán and the Bay Islands, please do let me know in the comments.

Mois d’été, que la vie est douce…

(111) View of Paris from Centre Pompidou

With the approaching holiday, and with a nice stretch before the autumn election season kicks off in September (capped by Germany’s long-awaited federal elections) Suffragio is taking a little bit of a summer breather.brittany_breton_region_flag-1France Flag Icon

I’m headed to France for a few days in Paris and thereafter a wedding in Bretagne.

So posting will be a little lighter than normal, and it may include a few more cultural and political thoughts on French and Breton life rather than the cut-and-thrust of Iranian politics or Pakistani economics.

À bientôt!

Photo credit to Kevin Lees — view of Eiffel Tower from Centre Pompidou, January 2006.

Back from Caracas

Back stateside after American Airlines and their computer glitch kept me at the Caracas airport for over eight hours and which also kept me overnight at the Miami airport.


But that doesn’t mean world politics has slowed down while I’ve been covering the Venezuelan elections.

The Italian electoral college begins to choose a new president tomorrow to succeed Giorgio Napolitano, and presumably, the person who will call new elections later this summer or perhaps this autumn.  I hope to have some more thoughts on that later today.

Paraguay will likely return the Colorados to power this Sunday in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. I hope to have a lot more on that in the coming days as well.

There’s also the not insignificant Icelandic elections later this month, early May snap elections in Malaysia (occasional guest contributor Andrew Novak is currently there now and may have some on-the-ground impressions soon).

Then there’s a barrage of mid-May elections in Pakistan (Pervez Musharraf has been barred from running), in Bulgaria, in the Philippines and in British Columbia.

So it’s going to be a busy month ahead — all while we keep an eye on how the Venezuelan election fallout shapes up.  So stay tuned — and thanks as usual for reading!

Suffragio celebrates its one-year anniversary


So today, my blog is exactly one year old.

In February 2012, I started this blog as a part-time venture and, nearly 17,000 hits and over 550 posts later, I’m still going strong.

As usual, thanks to my readers and guest contributors — and of course, please do share any thoughts to make Suffragio better: more relevant, more thoughtful, more prescient and more engaging.

Here’s to the next year for Suffragio!

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas


Hello from Las Vegas (and, well, from the Grand Canyon).

Posting will be light Monday, in all likelihood, given that I’ll be coming back from Nevada for 10 hours on Monday, and won’t get back to Washington until late.Washington_DC_Icon

I’m eager to share some thoughts on the ongoing Israeli government-building process, the Jordanian election ‘results,’ and the upcoming Italian and Kenyan elections, so stay tuned this week!

With the greater part of a week left in January, Suffragio‘s traffic has already had its best month since I founded my blog eleven months ago.

So, as usual, thanks to all of my readers — known and unknown — for your support, and most importantly for your constructive criticism.  I’m, as always, looking for advice on how to make my blog smarter, sharper and stronger.

The key to Vegas, by the way, is Tacos El Gordo, a Tijuana-based chain. Seriously, and just north of the Wynn on the Strip.

Joseph Weiler is the new president of the European University Institute

It’s with some delight that I congratulate Joseph H.H. Weiler, Joseph Straus Professor of Law at New York University, who has been selected as the next president of the European University Institute, where he received his doctorate and where he taught law from 1978 to 1985. 

Weiler was my international trade professor in law school at NYU, and although I studied under an impressive roster of legal scholars at NYU — including former Stanford Law dean Larry Kramer, Chicago Law dean Michael Schill and Middle East / constitutional academic rockstar Noah Feldman — Weiler’s course on the law of the World Trade Organization and the North America Free Trade Agreement (and really, the European Union as well) opened quite a new world of international law to me, and his relationship with the EUI gave me the chance, as a law student, to study there for a semester with any number of other top legal and political science scholars.

The EUI, situated in the hills just above Florence and just below Fiesole in Tuscany, is an international, pan-European postgraduate and research institute established by the European Union’s member states in the 1970s.