Tag Archives: trump

Austrian center wins a hollow presidential victory

Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeated the far right in Austria's presidential election, but it might ultimately be a Phyrric victory. (Amélie Chapalain / Facebook)
Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeated the far right in Austria’s presidential election, but it might ultimately be a Pyrrhic victory. (Amélie Chapalain / Facebook)

It took the counting of around 750,000 postal votes on Monday to settle what had been a too-close-to-call runoff to determine who would win Austria’s (mostly ceremonial) presidency.austria flag

The winner, by a very narrow margin, is Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old professor and, nominally an independent, though formerly a parliamentary leader of the Die Grünen (Austrian Green Party), and you could almost hear the palpable sigh of relief from across the European Union as far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer conceded defeat.

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But it’s a hollow relief.

The result means that Austria’s hard right will not occupy the presidency and, therefore, will not be able to attempt to terminate the current government or try to wrest greater powers from Austria’s parliament. But given the tumult of the past month in Austrian politics, the hard right has clearly been emboldened by the presidential race, and it will now look to the next parliamentary elections to take real power.

The first-round, double-digit victory of Norbert Hofer, the 45-year-old candidate of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, Freedom Party of Austria), stunned not only Austria, but all of Europe. It represents the closest than any far-right party has come to winning power at the national level in the European Union since the 1930s.

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RELATED: Far-right victory in Austrian presidential vote shocks Europe

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Its success shouldn’t have been surprising. The Freedom Party has increasingly gained on the country’s mainstream parties, and it nearly toppled state governments in regional elections last autumn.

Despite its defeat, the FPÖ has been able not only to undermine a sitting chancellor, but to force his resignation. After social democratic chancellor Werner Faymann initially welcomed refugees to Austria last summer, he abruptly reversed course under pressure from the Freedom Party and angry voters, instead co-opting the rhetoric and the policies of the far right, complete with border fences and anti-immigration crackdowns.

But the candidate of Faymann’s center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, Social Democratic Party of Austria) finished in fourth place, and shortly after the first-round vote, the Social Democrats essentially forced Faymann to resign, bringing to an end an eight-year tenure leading a grand coalition government with the center-right Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, Austrian People’s Party). For its part, the ÖVP presidential candidate placed an even more disappointing fifth.

Faymann, to his credit, ably led Austria through the 2008-09 global financial panic and the 2010 eurozone crisis, and Austria and its banking system, moreover, helped stave off a broader crisis in central Europe and the Balkans. Instead of leaving office, having made the noble case for welcoming refugees, he left power earlier this month after capitulating to the hard right. Continue reading Austrian center wins a hollow presidential victory

Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton might find in German chancellor Angela Merkel a role model in the era of Trump (State Department)

In 2008, US president Barack Obama won the largest Democratic mandate in a generation, in part, by pledging to change the tone in Washington.USflag

But in 2016, after eight years of increasingly bitter and partisan posturing, it’s Obama’s one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, who now has the opportunity to transcend the hyper-partisanship that began with the divided government under her husband’s administration in the 1990s.

Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party laid bare the long-growing schism among various Republican constituencies. Currently, the two living former Republican presidents (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), the party’s most recent presidential nominee (former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney), its one-time 2016 frontrunners (former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio) and the Republican in the highest-ranking elected official — speaker of the House (Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan) — have all refused to endorse Trump.

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RELATED: That transcending ideology thing from 2008?
Merkel did it. Obama hasn’t.

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Despite the promise that the coming general election will be nasty, even by the recent standards of American politics, Clinton, if she’s nimble enough, can become a unifying and moderate figure who can work with both Republicans and Democrats. If Trump loses as badly as polls suggest he might, the Republican Party will be a shambles on November 8. The fight for Senate control was always a toss-up, and a Trump debacle could endanger even Republican control of the House of Representatives.

Increasingly, the debate in world politics is tilting away from traditional left-right discourses, replaced by a much darker fight, for the first time since the 1930s, between populist nationalism and globalist internationalism — and not just in the United States, but everywhere from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. In that fight, Ryan (and Bush and moderate Republicans) have much more in common with Clinton and the officials who will lead a Clinton administration than with Trump.

Make no mistake, if Clinton wins the presidency in November, she’s not going to form a German-style ‘grand coalition’ with Ryan and leading Republicans. Postwar German politics operates largely on consensus to a degree unknown in American (or even much of European) politics. Still, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already paved the way for how a successful Clinton presidency might unfold, and Clinton advisers would be smart to figure out, as the campaign unfolds, how to position Clinton as a kind of American ‘Mutti.’ Clinton is already reaching out to moderate Republican donors, but the challenge goes much deeper — to become a kind of acceptable figure to both blue-state and red-state America.

It’s not clear that Clinton has the same political skill to pull off in the United States what Merkel has done in Germany.

But it’s a rare opportunity, nonetheless, if she can.  Continue reading Can Hillary Clinton become America’s Mutti?

A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas

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A popular figure from television and a neophyte to national politics rides a wave of populist protest against corruption, incompetence and the status quo to the top of the polls. First, he co-opts the nationalist message of conservatives, rattles against the supposed wrongs of neighboring countries and aligns himself with some of the country’s most reactionary forces. He then faces off against a former first lady, whose social democratic credentials are  overshadowed by suspicions and whispers of corruption and foul play. Easily, that man wins the presidency, making easy work of both the country’s conservative movement and the former first lady. guatemala flag icon

Sound familiar?

It’s not the United States and it’s not Donald Trump, now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

It’s Jimmy Morales, the populist comedian who won an overwhelming victory in last September’s presidential election in Guatemala.

But you might be excused for confusing the two.

For much of the last 11 months, as Trump has come to dominate American politics, the most immediate comparison in international politics has been former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. It’s true that there are many similarities — both are wealthy, older- than-average figures and both are right-wing populists with a penchant for blunt talk who rose to prominence as political outsiders.

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RELATED: Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

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But unlike Berlusconi, who owns much of the private Italian media, Trump doesn’t actually control any of the American media. What’s more important, though, is that Trump has done so well in presidential politics in spite of his wealth and business prowess. Michael Bloomberg and dozens of other businessmen are far wealthier and far more powerful, but they’re not presumptive nominees of a major U.S. political party.  Trump won the Republican nomination without deploying significant personal wealth and, indeed, he won with just a fraction of the amounts spent by competing Republican campaigns and their various super PACs.

Rather, Trump’s political success is due to his amazing abilities for self-promotion and self-branding, honed after decades of selling the ‘Trump’ brand and after 14 seasons starring in the reality television series The Apprentice. At this point, Trump-as-presidential-nominee owes his success to media personality, not any particular real estate canny.

That’s exactly the same skill set that Morales used in his spectacular run to the presidency in Guatemala last autumn. It’s also nearly the same platform — a lot of populist slogans heavy on identity, nationalism and throw-the-bums-out rhetoric, but light on actual policy details.  Continue reading A populist, nationalist neophyte rises in the Americas

Philippines considers both presidential strongman, Marcos restoration

Fists in the air, Rodrigo Duterte is leading the polls to become the next president of the Philippines. (Facebook)
Fists in the air, Rodrigo Duterte is leading the polls to become the next president of the Philippines. (Facebook)

It’s hard not to think of Rodrigo Duterte as the Donald Trump of the Philippines.philippines

But in truth, he’s more like Joseph Arpaio — a conservative, tough-on-crime kind of guy willing to do whatever it takes to clean up his city, human rights or the justice system be damned.

At age 71, ‘Rody’ Duterte, who has served for a total of 22 years as mayor of Davao City, has vaulted to a lead in the polls to become the leading presidential choice among voters in the Philippines when they go to the polls on May 9. It’s an election in which Philippines might turn from liberalism to illiberalism not only by electing a Duterte presidency, but also by supporting the restoration of the Marcos family — the son of Ferdinand Marcos, the country’s autocratic ruler from 1965 to 1986, is running for the vice presidency as well.

Duterte is a presidential candidate with tough talk on crime, corruption

Known domestically as the ‘punisher,’ Duterte is not a man to cross. He brags about killing criminals, especially drug dealers, with his own gun, taking extrajudicial justice into his own hands where he sees fit. He openly admitted last November to killing three rapists and kidnappers in Davao City, and he said last week that he would kill his own kids if he found out they were using drugs. Duterte has trekked across the country delivering a fiery nationalist stump speech, often with his fist raised in the air, a variant of which serves as his campaign logo. It’s not a subtle appeal Duterte is making to supporters, who also casually refer to him as ‘Duterte Harry.’

For the United States, the Philippines figures heavily in the growing US strategic and military interest in the Pacific Rim, and the outgoing Obama administration hopes that, in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will draw the Philippines closer to the United States and further, economically speaking, from China. Today, officials in the administrations of both outgoing US president Barack Obama and outgoing Philippine president Benigno ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino III view the growing cooperation as mutually beneficial.

In no uncertain terms, a Duterte victory next Monday in the presidential election would make US-Philippine relations much more difficult.

It’s not a small matter. The Philippines is the world’s 12th-most populous country, with 103 million people and growing.

Davao City, the fourth largest in the country, lies in the far tropical south, and Duterte has presided over its transformation from a hub for communist and left-wing radicals to a case study in law and order. In a country where everyone seems to be worried most about corruption and crime, Duterte and reports of how he’s tamed Davao City over 20 years in power have captured the national zeitgeist. Elected to national office just once (18 years ago) throughout his  decades-long career, Duterte can also style himself as an outsider, relatively speaking. Like most politicians in the Philippines, Duterte comes from an influential family — his father was an attorney and a former governor of what used to be Dávao province.

But that’s where the similarity to most Philippine politicians ends.

Braggadocio about personally killing drug dealers in Davao City and his ‘take no prisoners’ approach to anti-crime efforts have touched a chord with voters. Reporters questioned him when he kicked off his campaign last December about organizing death squads and killing over 700 people; Duterte responded (only half-jokingly) that he had killed more like 1,700 people. Continue reading Philippines considers both presidential strongman, Marcos restoration

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

No, Bernie wasn’t right about Panama — and offshore havens have little to do with trade

Even before a bilateral free trade deal with the United States, Panama City was thriving as a center of commerce, banking and shipping in the Caribbean. (Kevin Lees)
Even before a bilateral free trade deal with the United States, Panama City was thriving as a center of commerce, banking and shipping in the Caribbean. (Kevin Lees)

During Barack Obama’s presidential administration, the United States entered into bilateral free trade agreements with not only Panama, but Colombia and South Korea as well.USflagPanama Flag Icon

It might surprise Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, but that didn’t transform Colombia and South Korea offshore tax havens.

Panama, like the British Virgin Islands or a handful of well-known jurisdictions (including Delaware), was known as a top offshore destination for foreign assets well before 2012, when the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement took effect. Today, in the aftermath of the jaw-dropping leak of the ‘Panama Papers,’ a 2011 video clip of Sanders, the insurgent candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is now going viral.

But it’s far from evidence that Sanders was somehow prescient, and the suggestion that the U.S.-Panama free trade agreement somehow led to Panama’s reputation as a tax haven is disingenuous.

The truth is that offshore jurisdictions have been under siege for years, and the United States has been at the forefront of that fight. It began in earnest in the 1990s, a result of efforts to stymie money laundering related to drug trafficking. But it accelerated to warp speed after the 2001 terrorist attacks in response to concerns about the intricate networks that financed terrorism. Both before and after the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development took steps to force many of the worst global offenders, named and shamed on its ‘blacklist’ and ‘graylist’ of violators, to weaken their bank secrecy regimes.

That included, perhaps most notably, Switzerland, once the gold standard of secret bank accounts, which agreed to relent its famous standards of bank secrecy in 2009 and 2010. For the record, neither Panama nor the United States signed a more recent effort from 2014 to introduce greater tax transparency. Yet, under the Obama administration, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) has put unprecedented burdens on foreign financial institutions in the effort to root out American tax cheats.

Despite the easy meme about Sanders, the U.S.-Panama free trade agreement was always about free trade.

Continue reading No, Bernie wasn’t right about Panama — and offshore havens have little to do with trade

Benin’s version of Donald Trump wins presidential vote

Patrice Talon, a wealthy businessman and Benin's "king of cotton," won a March 20 presidential runoff. (Facebook)
Patrice Talon, a wealthy businessman and Benin’s “king of cotton,” won a March 20 presidential runoff. (Facebook)

Earlier this month, voters in five countries across Africa went to the polls in what some global news outlets called ‘Super Sunday’ across the continent. benin

In three of those countries, the results were foregone conclusions in what no one would describe as truly free and fair elections:

  • In the Republic of the Congo, known as ‘Congo-Brazzaville,’ because it lies to the west of the far larger Democratic Republic of the Congo to its east, Denis Sassou Nguesso easily won reelection — he’s held power since 1979, barring a short-lived hiatus from 1992 to 1997, after his ousting in a presidential election.
  • In Niger, a country of over 17 million in west Africa, Mahamadou Issoufou easily won reelection after first taking power in 2011. The opposition had boycotted the vote.
  • Ali Mohamed Shein easily won reelection as the president of Zanzibar (an autonomous region of Tanzania) after the opposition boycotted a re-run of a flawed election last October.

But in Benin, a sliver of a country nudged between Togo and Nigeria on the west African coast, voters selected someone who might be considered ‘Trumpian’ in his own right — a business tycoon who dominates the country’s most important industry, cotton production, who drives around in imported Jaguars and Porsches and wears designer clothes, a tycoon whose wealth comes in ample part from connections to the right people, a ‘bad boy’ who swept to power with no real government experience.

Patrice Talon, that Beninese businessman, easily won the presidency in a March 20 runoff with 65.37% of the vote to just 34.63% for former prime minister Lionel Zinsou. In the first round on March 8, Zinsou led with 28.44% to just 24.80% for Talon.

But no emerging democracy is perfect.  Continue reading Benin’s version of Donald Trump wins presidential vote

Beyond Cuba: why Caribbean debt crisis could become American security crisis

Cuban president Raúl Castro met US president Barack Obama Monday morning in Havana. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald)
Cuban president Raúl Castro met US president Barack Obama Monday morning in Havana. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

It’s not just voters in Spain, Ireland and Greece who are weary of austerity economics.PRjamaicacubaUSflag

Voters in Jamaica last month narrowly ejected their prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, giving opposition leader Andrew Holness and the nominally center-right Jamaica Labour Party a razor-thin 32-31 majority in the House of Representatives. Though Jamaican politics has been famous since the 1970s for its polarization, Holness will govern with the narrowest margin in the House since 1949.

What he does with his mandate could matter not only for Jamaica, but the entire Caribbean.

Simpson-Miller, who took power in 2012 and secured yet another IMF bailout in 2013 for the debt-plagued island, marked some success in bringing the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio down from 140% to around 125%. For now, Holness is working with IMF officials, but he won election after pledging to spend more revenues on health care, education and stimulating the economy, part of a generous and populist 10-point plan that will be difficult for him to enact under current fiscal restraints.

The Caribbean’s self-cannibalizing debt crisis

Holness will find himself in a trap all too common in the 21st century Caribbean, where manufacturing, tourism and, in some cases, modest oil production, have not been sufficient to boost economies and incomes. Without higher GDP growth, Holness will face two difficult options. If his government spends too much, he’ll unwind the careful work of his predecessor and send Jamaican debt levels spiraling upwards again. If Holness spends too little, he will alienate the electorate that gave him a majority and that, like Americans and Europeans, are weary of roller-coaster economic uncertainty and a widening inequality gap.

It’s a story that is increasingly familiar across the region and, today, it’s not just Jamaica that is falling into the debt trap. Barbados and Grenada have both marked 60% increases in their debt/GDP ratios in the last 15 years, and the Bahamas, Bermuda and other countries, not typically associated with imprudence, are also struggling with rising debt. Islands like Martinique and Guadeloupe thrive as fossils of France’s colonial empire, thriving due to hefty subsidies from Paris. Trinidad and Tobago, only recently flush with the promise of offshore oil drilling, has watched its expectations plummet with global oil prices. Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, endures a grinding debt default amid prolonged economic misery with little hope that legislative action can fix its economy. Despite years of advanced warning, neither Democrats nor Republicans have the inclination or ability to provide relief from Capitol Hill.

Taken together, the spiraling debt and economic stagnation of the Caribbean represents an overlooked security challenge in the years ahead that China, Russia or even the Middle East might exploit.

Cuba, Cuba, Cuba

Jamaica’s election didn’t generate the same excitement in the American media as U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic trip this week to Havana, the first since Calvin Coolidge visited in 1928. But it’s only the third time that Obama himself has traveled to the Caribbean at all – he visited Jamaica in April 2015, and he went to Trinidad and Tobago in 2009, when it hosted the 5th Summit of the Americas. Continue reading Beyond Cuba: why Caribbean debt crisis could become American security crisis

Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovenian-born figure in American history. (Facebook)
Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovene-born figure in American history. (Facebook)

Donald Trump’s campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ may be associated with halting immigration from Mexico or making deals with China, Russia or Japan. But a Trump administration might bring another country to the forefront of international relations. USflagslovenia

That’s because his wife, Melania Knauss Trump (in Slovene, Melanija Knavs) would be only the second First Lady born outside the United States.

Louisa Adams, the wife of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was born in England. Teresa Heinz Kerry, a Mozambican-born American, the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry, would have also been a foreign-born First Lady, had Kerry won the 2004 presidential election.

With a staggering victory in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Trump has amassed around 673 delegates to July’s Republican convention in Cleveland — more than half of what he’ll need to reach 1,237 and the nomination, and much to the horror of a shellshocked Republican Party that’s watched Trump attack Mexican immigrants as racists, called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, threatened to sue journalists and encouraged physical violence at rallies.

So, even as Trumpmania sweeps right-wing voters across the United States, is the country ready for a Slovene-born supermodel in the East Wing?

For a candidate whose approach to presidential politics is anything but ordinary, Melania Trump’s approach to the campaign trail has been equally unorthodox in a race pitting her against former US president Bill Clinton for the title of ‘first spouse.’

If Bill Clinton’s role in a Hillary-led White House remains something of a mystery, so does Melania Trump’s. She hasn’t identified any particular key issues that she would champion as First Lady, such as Laura Bush’s focus on education and literacy or Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity and fitness. But that’s also because she is raising a 10-year old son, Barron, the youngest of Donald Trump’s five children across three marriages. There’s more than a murmur of talk that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, would fulfill more of the traditional roles of the First Lady.

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Regardless, Melania Trump would certainly bring a level of elegance to the White House unseen since perhaps the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy lived there. As American voters focus on a general election showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Melania Trump’s most important role could be humanizing and softening her husband’s image — he would enter the general election as the most unpopular major-party candidate in recent US history.

Born in 1970 in the small town of Sevnica in southeastern Slovenia, the 45-year-old Melania Trump, is the daughter of a fashion designer, which propelled young Melania’s own modeling career in Milano and Paris and, finally, New York City. She first met Donald Trump at fashion week in the autumn of 1998, and they married in 2005. To date, it’s been Donald Trump’s longest and, seemingly, most successful marriage. Although she became a permanent resident of the United States in 2001, she obtained her citizenship a decade ago in 2006.

But the 45-year-old supermodel, who has graced the cover of Vogue and GQ but not Time, is not exactly a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail. She rarely makes speeches or gives interviews, though that has changed as Trump’s candidacy gained traction. The rapid transition from supermodel to campaign trail spouse hasn’t been incredibly easy. Most potential first ladies spend a lifetime in politics becoming just as savvy in politics as their spouses. Melania Trump, whose first language isn’t English, has had exactly nine months.

Moreover, when she has ventured into the media, she’s faced tough questions about her husband’s statements about women and his strong anti-immigration stands. In particular, she has faced criticism that as a European model, her path to American citizenship, which involved a special kind of H1B visa, has been far easier than most immigrants. In a debate earlier this month, Donald Trump appeared to soften his stand against the kind of H1B visas available to workers in high demand (including models), only to harden his stand again a day later.

(GRID-Arendal)
(GRID-Arendal)

But the nature of the modern presidency means that Trump’s nomination or, especially, a Trump victory in November, will bring Slovenia squarely into the center of American consciousness for, let’s face it, probably the first time in US history. It would be a surprise if many Americans could even place Slovenia on a map or even know that it’s part of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Television news crews have already started descending on Sevnica, a trickle that is likely to turn into a flood by the time of the July convention or, despite the terror of Democrats and more than a few Republicans, next January’s presidential inauguration.

More importantly for Slovenia, the rash of attention means that even if the Trump candidacy somehow fades this spring or falls short of 270 electoral votes in November, interest in Slovenia, including tourism from the United States, could skyrocket for years to come. Since 2012, The New York Times has published just four items in its travel section on Slovenia. It’s a smart bet that will change as the Trump narrative dominates headlines in 2016 and the American electorate gets to know Melania Trump and her background.
Continue reading Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

How Justin Trudeau became the world’s first Millennial leader

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gets up close and personal with two panda cubs at the Toronto Zoo. (Facebook)
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gets up close and personal with two panda cubs at the Toronto Zoo. (Facebook)

Technically speaking, Justin Trudeau belongs to Generation X.Canada Flag Icon

But you’d be excused for mistaking him for a Millennial because Trudeau is, in essence, the world’s first Millennial leader.

Even his political enemies realize this. Preston Manning, who founded the Reform Party in 1987 (it eventually became the Western anchor of today’s Conservative Party), mocked the new Liberal prime minister and his state visit to Washington, D.C. last week:

In many respects he epitomizes the “it’s all about me” generation and its self-expression and promotion via social media. So let’s like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter – and while we’re at it, why not a selfie?

What the 73-year-old Manning, who once led his party to such a failure that it won fewer seats in the House of Commons than the pro-independence Bloc Québécois, doesn’t realize is that social media fluency in the politics of the 2010s is currency. It’s a feature, not a bug. (Just ask Donald Trump, who might single-handedly be reinvigorating Twitter as a medium for political communication).

While Trudeau, at 44, might be too old to be a Millennial as a technical matter, he certainly mastered the political vocabulary of young voters. Twenty years ago, younger Canadian voters might have viewed the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair as the kind of prudent, centrist leader that would make a superb prime minister. Not in 2015, when young voters swarmed to Trudeau in record numbers, to the dismay of both the NDP and Conservatives.

In 2014, a year after Trudeau assumed the leadership of the Liberal Party, he was already leading 18-to-29-year-olds by a larger margin than any other age group. Polls in the immediate aftermath of last October’s Liberal landslide showed that young voters supported Trudeau at higher proportions than other age groups.  Continue reading How Justin Trudeau became the world’s first Millennial leader

Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

Despite similarities between former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and US businessman Donald Trump, there are also key differences to their governance approach.
Despite similarities between former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and US businessman Donald Trump, there are also key differences to their governance approach.

One of the sharpest comparisons for Americans trying to understand the resilient appeal of Donald Trump is the rise of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in the 1990s.Italy Flag Icon

Rising from the ashes of a widespread corruption scandal that tarred Italy’s entire political elite, Berlusconi, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, rose from 1994’s power vacuum to what would become nearly two decades dominating Italian politics. Though he lost power less than a year after his first election, he stormed back to power in 2001. Despite a short-lived turn in 2006 to the center-left’s Romano Prodi, Berlusconi once again returned in 2008. Forced to resign in 2011 amid a debt crisis, Berlusconi still led the Italian right to what amounts to a draw in the 2013 election.

It’s as if Italian voters just couldn’t help themselves, such was the spectacle of a showman that the Italian media dubbed ‘Il cavaliere,’ the ‘knight.’ Time and again, Berlusconi’s charms proved irresistible. It’s not out of the question that he might mount yet another comeback by the time that the 2018 elections roll around. Continue reading Why Trump isn’t quite an American Berlusconi

Hillary Clinton might be the Chirac of the 2016 election

French President Jacques Chirac met Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady in Paris in 1996. (AP / Michel Euler)
French President Jacques Chirac met Hillary Rodham Clinton as first lady in Paris in 1996. (AP / Michel Euler)

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will come out of the ‘Super Tuesday’ primaries tonight with the delegates they need to wrap up either the respective Democratic or Republican presidential nominations.USflagFrance Flag Icon

Trump, in particular, will face sustained pressure from Texas senator Ted Cruz, who won Texas and Oklahoma, from Florida senator Marco Rubio, who won Minnesota’s caucuses and only narrowly lost Virginia and even from Ohio governor John Kasich, who may have won Vermont.

But the most likely outcome certainly seems like a Trump-Clinton general election. (And yes, that means I was wrong about my forecast of how the Republican contest would unfold).

There are, of course, reasons to believe that Trump would force a much tougher race against Clinton than Cruz or Rubio, because of his showmanship, his ability to transcend the left-right polarization and his ability to run against the ‘establishment’ choice of Clinton just as easily as he dispatched Jeb Bush.

But there’s also a chance that Clinton will demolish him.

Over the weekend, former far-right Front national leader Jean-Marie Le Pen Tweeted his support for Trump.   Continue reading Hillary Clinton might be the Chirac of the 2016 election

For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

In the leadup to Pope Francis's visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, 'Chihuahua is love.' (Kevin Lees)
In the leadup to Pope Francis’s visit to Juárez, signs and billboards welcome him with slogans like, ‘Chihuahua is love.’ (Kevin Lees)

EL PASO, Texas and CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico – When Pope Francis visits Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, city officials hope that the international attention will change its reputation as the homicidal, lawless capital of Mexican drug violence.USflagMexico Flag Icontexas flag

Five years ago, at the height of the city’s instability, it registered over 3,000 homicides annually. But that was before a renewed push for less corrupt policing, the local victory of the Sinaloa cartel and a retreat by the current Mexican government from a militarized approach to defeating drug cartels.

In 2015, the city recorded just 311 homicides, the lowest murder rate in nearly a decade. Philadelphia, by contrast, with roughly the same population, recorded 277 homicides in 2015.

But it’s not just Juarenses who hope the papal presence can rebrand the city. It’s also El Paso, which lies just across the border, and which is one of the safest cities in the United States, even at the height of the violent battle between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels. In fact, Beto O’Rourke, who has represented the 16th Congressional district that includes El Paso since 2013, had hoped to work with Mexican officials to use to visit to highlight U.S.-Mexican relations on a far grander scale.

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RELATED: An interview with El Paso-area congressman Beto O’Rourke

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“There was an attempt that we were part of, short-lived, that was ambitious, to construct at small bridge across the [Rio Grande] to allow the Pope to sort of walk across and put his hand on the border fence,” O’Rourke said in an interview late last month. “I spoke to the diocese, to the bishop. I think that would have done so much to bring home to people how connected our two countries are. It would have been a powerful message.”

Though the plans fell through, O’Rourke will attend this week’s papal mass in Juárez, and he hoped that many El Pasoans will have a chance to see Francis, the first Latin American pope, as he drives along a border that divides one community into two cities that belong to two countries, the Apollonian yin of El Paso counterbalancing the Dionysian yang of Juárez.

In snowy New Hampshire, voters endorsed another view about the U.S.-Mexican border last week when Donald Trump swept to a crushing victory in the Republican presidential primary. When he announced his candidacy for the nomination last June in the lobby of Manhattan’s Trump Tower, the businessman attacked Mexico as an enemy of the United States, a country “killing us economically,” and he painted the vision of a southern border overrun with immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” labeling many would-be migrants as “rapists,” even while conceding that some “are good people.” Continue reading For El Paso-Juárez, Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)
Congressman Beto O’Rourke has been representing the El Paso area in the US House of Representatives since January 2013. (Rod Lamkey / Getty Images)

As part of a reporting trip to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez earlier last month, I spoke with El Paso’s congressman, Beto O’Rourke, by telephone, on January 27. The transcript follows below, and it encompasses essentially the entire interview with the congressman, a member of the Democratic Party and a former member of the El Paso city council. Congressman O’Rourke has represented Texas’s 16th district since January 2013.USflagtexas flagMexico Flag Icon

You will be able to read my piece on El Paso and Juárez — and how their interconnectivity belies the rhetoric of Donald Trump — shortly. But the more wide-ranging and thoughtful interview with Congressman O’Rourke is also worth a read, given that we touched on many topics, including Trump, the history of the El Paso-Juárez region, the US ‘war on drugs,’ income inequality in an international context and the Democratic primary battle between former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Kevin Lees: Thanks for talking to me today.

Congressman Beto O’Rourke: My pleasure.

KL: How much time do we have?

BOR: I have right now about 30 minutes.

KL: So when are you headed back to Washington?

BOR: Monday, and you probably know this, but we were supposed to be there this week.

KL: You missed a snowstorm!

BOR: I know! [small talk continues]

BOR: I’m interested in people’s impression of El Paso. We have a very large military installation here. And there are somewhere around 30,000 to 32,000 active duty service members, most of whom are not from El Paso. And you hear what they thought when they found out they were going to be posted to El Paso, which is almost always negative, and then [you hear] what their actual experience was when they got here, is almost always positive. In part because they really assumed and feared the worst, and so starting from such a low point it can only get better once they got here. But it is really beautiful. We’re in the Rocky Mountains, which people don’t expect when they are in Texas. Where the US and Mexico, and then Texas and New Mexico and Chihuahua all meet. There‘s no other place that I’ve ever been that is as extraordinary. I haven’t been everywhere in the world, but I’ve been to a lot of places, it’s really beautiful.

A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)
A view of El Paso and the Rocky Mountains from the US-Mexican border. (Kevin Lees)

KL: And the culture is really a very bespoke culture, a sort of hybrid between American and Mexican culture. Its own borderlands kind of thing, where everyone sort of has a foot in two different countries. It’s very special to me. I thought it was a lot of fun.

BOR: I don’t know if you Snapchat at all, but we’re trying to connect with people to broadcast their views, information exclusively from Snapchat. Which apparently is big for a lot of people 14- to 24-year olds. And I’m trying to use it to show people what it is when they think about this region. So I used it for a run today along the Rio Grande and the Upper Valley of El Paso, and I kind of took a shot and posted it of ‘Over here is El Paso, this is Del Ray where Mexico, New Mexico, and Mexico all connect; this is a neighborhood in Juárez; all in one shot.’

It really kind of blows people’s minds when they see that or realize that we really are either at the end of the world, or the beginning of the world in terms of what your world is. Either the back door to the United States or the front door to the United States. Front door or back door to Latin America.

KL: One of the things that you realize when you are in El Paso and Juárez is the two cities function as sort of each other’s yin and yang in some ways. In what ways do you consider El Paso and Juárez the same city? Continue reading An interview with El Paso-area Congressman Beto O’Rourke

Trump’s ‘mercantilist’ economic views had their heyday in the 17th century

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Donald Trump’s economic policies are rooted less in monetarism or neo-Keynesianism, but in the now-discredited economic 17th century theory of mercantilism. (Facebook)

For the most part, mainstream economic views in the United States (and most of the developed world, for that matter) can be traced to a long-established line of theory in the history of economic thought. USflag

Adam Smith’s invisible hand. David Ricardo’s views on free trade and comparative advantage. Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. If you’re on the right, you look perhaps to 19th century marginalists or monetarists like Milton Friedman. If you’re on the left, perhaps you look more to John Maynard Keynes and other macroeconomic theories.

But Donald Trump’s view of economics and world trade seems to have its roots, intentionally or unintentionally, in a brand of economic theory that predates Smith and Ricardo — the mercantilist school, which essentially views world trade as a zero-sum exercise. The key to wealth is to maximize your exports, limit your imports and, for good measure, amass as much gold as possible. England’s loss was France’s gain.

Those kind of mercantilist theories are at the heart of Trump’s economic pitch to voters. It was on full display in his victory speech after Trump handily won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary:

We’re going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We’re going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It’s not going to happen anymore.

Sir Thomas Mun, one of the leading lights of mercantilism, wrote something eerily similar in his 1630 tract England’s Treasure By Foreign Trade: Continue reading Trump’s ‘mercantilist’ economic views had their heyday in the 17th century