It's a Wave, It's a Flood, It's the GOP Tsunami! But What Now?

Andy Langenkamp   |   November 10, 2014   12:30 PM ET

Sweet dreams for GOP & nightmares for Dems, but....

From a markets point of view the outcome of the midterm elections is moderately encouraging now that we have a president who is generally more pro-market and pro-business than his democratic caucus and a party in charge of both houses of Congress which is also generally pro-business. If they manage to get into a room and work some deals out, we could be witness to progress in some important policy areas:

• Energy: it will now be easier to open up the energy markets for exports of oil and gas. Moreover, Obama could be tempted to finally approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada to the US. These prospects could push oil prices further down.

• Trade: Obama would like to close major free trade deals with Europe and the Pacific region (TTIP and TPP). But to do this, the President needs fast-track authority otherwise Congress could hold up the legislation by constantly adding amendments. A Republican controlled Congress could more easily grant Obama this authority. Most economists agree that TTIP and TPP would give a big boost to the world economy.

• Bank legislation: Republicans despise the Dodd-Frank legislation that put the financial sector in chains according to many conservatives. Even some Democrats are not too happy with this bank law. So we could see some relaxing of the constraints on banks in the coming years.

• Taxes: there's an opportunity for the corporate income tax to be reformed. US companies have by now stashed as much as $5tn in cash abroad in order to prevent having to pay one of the highest corporate taxes in the world. If Washington succeeds in pushing through some changes in tax law, part of this money could come back to the US ready to be invested instead of idly waiting abroad thereby giving the US economy a boost.

• Immigration: we admit, it will be very difficult to realize progress on this issue, but if Obama and Congress can work something out it will be a lift for the US economy as well as for the global economy.

• Battle against the Islamic State: Republicans are more in favor of a "boots on the ground" component in the strategy to battle the Islamic extremists. If they succeed in adding this to the mix, the prospects for success against IS will likely increase, somewhat lessening the geopolitical risk in financial markets prices.

Foreign Policy Troubles?

The elections may turn out to be good for the above foreign policy issue, but could have averse consequences for two other areas:

• Iran: the GOP prefers a much harder line against Iran. So the outcome of the midterms could frustrate the Iranian nuclear talks.

• Guantanamo Bay: the Gitmo prison has turned out to be a major catalyst for increased extremism in the Middle East and in other places. Obama wants to close it down, but he was confronted with major opposition in Congress, especially from the Republican side. Now, we see increased chances of Gitmo continuing to operate even after Obama leaves office. Adding some more fuel to extremist, anti-American fires around the world.

Bipartisanship pipe-dream or realistic scenario?

All in all, we see some probabilities for market-friendly breakthroughs as a result of the midterms. However, financial markets should not get their hopes up too much. Republicans could get cocky because of their success and populist firebrands like Marc Rubio still are a sizeable part of Congress despite the moderate conservatives making a comeback. Democrats should be some what humble after this massacre, but they could opt for thinking that in 2016 the electoral map is heavily in their favor and therefore be less amenable to working with Republicans.

There won't be an end to political gridlock yet, there's just a movement of the chokepoint from the Senate to Obama's veto. People were very frustrated that nothing got done in Washington the last couple of years, but they should not count on DC becoming a smooth, tough, lean and mean operator just because of one election. Some market friendly decisions now have a better chance of being taken, but politics in general in America will not begin to work better overnight.

Louise Ridley   |   November 10, 2014    8:57 AM ET

It's a classic mistake which has foiled many a news organisation: are you referring to current US President Barack Obama... or late Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden?

CNN confused the two in an unfortunate typo on 8 November in a TV news banner.

cnn

CNN aired the banner on Sunday evening US time

The banner reportedly appeared for less than a minute before being corrected, but that was long enough for eagle-eyed audience to take some screen shots and lampoon it for the mistake.

CNN's report was about the US Navy Seal who claims to have shot and killed Bin Laden in a May 2011 raid, who is under attack by his former comrades who dispute his version of events.

Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid in Pakistan, and founded one of the largest terrorist organisations in the world, while Barack Obama runs the US and is very much alive.

READ MORE: October's best news bloopers

It's not the first time Obama has been reported dead.

Fox News fell victim to the confusingly similar names on two occasions in 2011 when reporting Bin Laden's death. Its Sacramento affiliate Fox40 News reported that 'Obama Bin Laden' was dead, with another banner that was quickly removed.

fox

Fox's affiliate made the mistake

A reporter on its affiliate channel News 5 even spoke the mistake out loud, telling viewers that their president was "telling the nation and the world President Obama is in fact dead."

READ MORE:

Howard Fineman   |   November 6, 2014    1:59 PM ET

It would be nice to think that, after years of ever-deeper anger, division and paralysis, the U.S. government would unite -- out of exhaustion, if nothing else.

It would be nice to think that a humbled President Barack Obama and his emboldened Republican foes would join hands to deal with our obvious public problems: Immigration policy, debt, foreign policy, education, infrastructure.

It would be nice, but it would be wrong.

The prospect for the next two years is one of limited substantive progress, but intense political positioning for, yes, the next election.

obama

'Intense political positioning' for the next presidential elections will follow the midterm elections, Howard Fineman writes


If the U.S. were a parliamentary democracy, the government would have fallen as a result of Tuesday’s election.

But in America, with its Newtonian clockwork of dispersed authority, the political losers and the winners are supposed to work jointly and earnestly on a governing agenda.

They rarely do that.

Honoring tradition, the president and the new leader of the opposition, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, pledged open minds and hearts and a desire to cooperate.

And there, in fact, may be some new laws on global trade, energy, corporate taxes, and a few other matters. Republicans and Obama may able to assemble a mostly Republican alliance of business-friendly members of Congress.

But on the big, emotional issues -- health care, immigration policy, the seemingly endless “war on terror,” even education policy -- the world should not expect much. The cultural chasms are too deep.

There is no doubt that Obama was sobered, if not humiliated, in this midterm election. One reason is the ebb and flow of American politics. The president’s party almost always loses seats in the sixth year of an eight-year administration.

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But this was a drubbing on all levels. Obama's (liberal) Democratic Party lost control of the Senate to the (conservative) Republicans for the first time in nearly a decade. Republicans strengthened their already strong grip on the House of Representatives. They won governorships in many key states, including Obama’s Illinois. And they won more state legislatures that, among other things, draw the lines for congressional election districts. There are indeed some factors that favor an effort at cooperation. The main one is Americans’ collective disgust at the way elections work and the way Washington does not. Voters are smarter than the commercially bizarre way we run elections, and they resent the sloppy, cynical system they live in. After all, Americans have just survived an election season in which $4 billion -- yes $4 billion -- was spent on TV advertising, in which Republicans tore down Obama as a wimp and a socialist (a confusing combination) and Democrats depicted Republicans as misogynistic predators eager to rip intravenous tubes from grandma’s arm. Republicans have prospered in the Obama years by trying to block every initiative he has to offer, and then blaming the resulting gridlock on him. This plays into the American myth about the globe-girdling power of the presidency, and it has worked to make Obama look weak. But they now have an incentive to show that they can be grown-ups as they lay the groundwork for whomever their presidential candidate is in 2016. Successful presidential campaigns don’t win on anger, but on hopeful ideas. McConnell, soon to be Republican leader in the Senate at age 72, has reason to want a legacy of constructive action. So those are reasons to think that things will get done. But there is another side of the ledger. Republicans have gotten where they are in the last few years by opposing the president at every turn. Why should they stop now? The activist core of their party remains vehemently antagonistic to Obama, and Republican leaders ignore that at their peril. The president himself is not the kind of politician who relishes the grimy trading of favors that is at the heart of politics. He thinks in intellectual constructs, and he doesn’t enjoy the game for its own sake. And American politics as now constructed is a money-drive proposition based on the profits of discord. Campaign consultants make millions; TV stations make hundreds of millions; billionaires are free to throw their weight around like oligarchs in Russia. Parties play to their own extremes to stoke emotion and harvest contributions. It is as though the seating in the House of Commons were reversed. Instead of facing each other, the parties are facing outward to their most mindlessly steadfast supporters outside the building. It would be nice to think that that will change, but it won't.

Can this Lame Duck Fly?

James Davis   |   November 5, 2014    2:11 PM ET

In the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt unseated a sitting president with the campaign slogan: "Happy days are here again!" Assuming the presidency in March 1933, he lifted the spirits of the nation with the assertion: "The only thing we have to fear...is fear itself!" A half-century later, as the US economy showed signs of recovery from a sustained recession, Ronald Reagan won a landslide reelection, campaigning on the slogan: "It's morning again in America!" Optimism, it seems, is a winning proposition in American politics.

First elected on the slogan "Yes we can!" Barack Obama's optimism was often was compared to that of Roosevelt and Reagan. But today, after the Democratic Party suffered major defeats in the mid-term elections and lost control of the United States Senate, many are drawing a different comparison to these lions of the last century. The implied lesson? If only Obama were a bit more like Roosevelt and Reagan, if only he had been able to counter the Republican narrative of fear, things would have turned out better for the Democratic Party!

It is true; Americans by and large seem to have lost their optimism, their fundamental belief in a better future. And by and large, Republicans did run a campaign of fear. Take the campaign of the incoming Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The Senator from Kentucky ran a campaign that highlighted the dangers of foreign trade and labeled President Obama's efforts to move the United States toward renewable energies as a "war on coal." Not much optimism there.

While McConnell criticized a phony war, other Republicans were eager to rewrite the history of failed wars of the past. Raising the specter of the Islamic State in attacks against the incumbent Democrat, Senator Kay Hagan, the newly elected Senator from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, was characteristic. Ignoring the fact that Barack Obama won election with a pledge to bring American troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and conveniently forgetting that the sectarian violence now plaguing Iraq and Syria is a direct consequence of George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, Tillis blamed the President and Senator Hagan for the rise of ISIS. When reporters pointed out that Tillis himself had failed to articulate a plan for dealing with ISIS the Republican candidate responded: Hagan is "responsible for it and she works for a commander in chief who's responsible for it."

Fear mongering served the Republicans well in this election, but would things have been different, if only Barack Obama had a bit of Roosevelt or Reagan in him? History suggests the answer is no.

Despite a convincing reelection in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt suffered a devastating defeat in the November 1938 midterm elections. The Democrats lost 72 seats in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. The President's party retained official control of the Senate, but a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from the Southern States effectively brought Roosevelt's New Deal politics to a standstill.

Despite Ronald Reagan's intense personal popularity and landslide reelection in 1984, the Republican Party lost control of the Senate only two years later, with the Democrats picking up 8 seats. Facing Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Reagan's "Conservative Revolution" had hit a wall in the 1986 midterm elections.

Whether Obama has turned out to be a weak and ineffective President is a proposition we can debate, but not on the basis of yesterday's elections. True, the President will no longer dominate the domestic political agenda. On that question, the elections leave no room for doubt. At home, Obama is indeed a lame duck.

But the President can to draw some strength and inspiration from the fact that both Roosevelt and Reagan achieved their most important foreign policy triumphs after they lost their power to dominate the domestic political agenda. After 1938 Roosevelt effectively led the United States into the Second World War and Reagan essentially ended the Cold War in the final years of his Presidency. It seems that lame ducks sometimes still can fly.

  |   November 3, 2014   10:17 AM ET

That headline is not, amazingly, a rhetorical question, but one posed by 'Russell Howard's Good News'.

Check out Howard comparing and contrasting Cameron and Obama's recent moves... and coming to a not-too-unexpected conclusion.

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US in for a Killer and a Chiller and a Thriller?

Andy Langenkamp   |   October 31, 2014    3:09 PM ET

Talking about butterflies and bees

Forty years ago on 30th October 1974 the legendary Rumble in the Jungle took place: Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round in Zaire in one of the biggest sporting events ever. The US would like to be able to operate on the global stage like Ali did in the boxing ring: "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

However, the US now often lacks the stamina, shrewdness and domestic political unity needed to deal out a mean five-punch combination of left and right hooks to deal with opponents and challenges: Russia, terrorists, high debt, immigration, to name but a few.

The coming quarters we will see if the US manages to offer some Ali to the world and deliver on domestic issues like immigration, addressing the Islamic State challenge, standing up to Russia without plunging the world into a new Cold War etc. On 4 November Americans will be heading to the polls to pick a new House of Representatives and replace a third of the hundred Senators. Later in November - on 15 and 16 November - we will witness the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia and a deal on Iran's contested nuclear program needs to be reached before a November 24 deadline.

Rope-A-Dope

Ali used a tactic now known as Rope-A-Dope: lying against the ropes, Ali allowed Foreman to hit him, but much of the punch's energy was absorbed by the ropes' elasticity rather than Ali's body. Ali managed to cause Foreman to "punch himself out" and make mistakes so Ali could counter-attack.

It would be fantastic if we would be able to look back in a couple of years to the period after 2008 and conclude that the US copied the Rope-A-Dope tactic and 2015 turned out to be the year that the US finally hit back and took the initiative back again as global leader and as a united country with a strong and cohesive vision and policies.

Who's the greatest?

However, America often acts like a ponderous and unwieldy giant in the geopolitical boxing area lacking the necessary eye-to-hand coordination. The US used to be able to act like Ali did in the ring (although it did not always do so):

• Approaching fights like chess matches.

• Being almost invincible and acting with supreme confidence, just like Ali yelled to Foreman in the 1974 fight: "That all you got, George? That all you got?"

• Bending the rules and getting away with it (just like Ali did when he out-wrestled Foreman, leaned on him and pushed the champion's head down by pulling on the back of his neck).

But the US could and cannot sustain the hegemonic role the way it did in the recent past: other giants stepping into the ring are one cause. Another reason is the political disunity at home, the partisanship that obstructs policy making and the clear lines that divide the country into red and blue parts. The government shutdown last year was one example of this debilitating political climate. The US does not succeed in passing major reforms in areas like immigration and taxes because of the political gridlock.

Midterms: it's the economy stupid - except when it isn't

The midterms next week will not lead to revolutionary change. The Republicans should retain solid control of the House and recent polls have tilted in favor of a narrow Republican Senate majority, with a net gain of seven seats which would give the GOP 52 out of the hundred seats. Obama's Democrats heading for a clunking defeat in the midterm elections next week shows a disjunction between economic performance and political success. "It would upend one of the great clichés of modern politics. These days it's the economy stupid - except when it isn't," writes The Guardian. The American people are insecure and are doubting if growth will translate into many good paying jobs being created and in a broad-based recovery for consumers. On top of this, the world seems more dangerous to Americans with ISIS beheading US citizens and Ebola having entered the country without Washington showing an appropriate response.

If polls turn out to be right, the last two years of Obama's presidency are set to make the last four look like an age of mutual civility and respect. The GOP will try to repeal many laws that the Obama administration has enacted in the last six years. Obamacare will obviously be the first to go if it was up to the Republicans and environmental regulation will also be on the list. If the next two years will indeed be all about the GOP trying to undo what Obama has done, the US will lose even more sense of direction and purpose.

However, I doubt that the outcome of the elections will matter very much to markets despite upcoming issues like the possibility of another debt ceiling-related impasse in the 2nd quarter of 2015. The markets are already discounting a lame-duck president for the next two years and I do not see this changing. We witnessed political trench warfare in the last couple of years and we will certainly see it the next two years albeit possibly in a somewhat intensified manner.

Get up and fight

All in all, the US will not undergo a remarkable change for the better in the coming quarters to years: US economic growth will probably continue without surprising very much on the upside. The G20 meeting in Australia will not herald any major changes in how the world will deal with economic imbalances and disappointing growth and we will also not witness a game changing nuclear deal with Iran. This means that the West will stay down in the near future just like Sonny Liston did in 1965 when Ali shouted at him: "Get up sucker and fight. Get up and fight!" The US will be a giant for years to come but is clearly taking a couple of steps back because of domestic political malady and a lack of strategic vision and strong White House leadership amid the rise of new international players and the reappearance of thorny old rivals.

Bricks and stones

Right after the crumbling of the Soviet Union the US felt like Ali in his heydays:

"I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale;
and cuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail;
Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick;
I'm so mean I make medicine sick."

Nowadays, the US still deserves and receives much admiration and awe because of its military, political, economic and social levels of development, but in many ways the nation needs a couple of doses of medicine while players from all sides are hurling bricks and stones at it. It will take some time for the US to stand up again and turn the game around.

Overcoming the Past and Accepting Realities - The Necessary Evils to Defeat ISIS are Boots On The Ground in Iraq and a Diplomatic Channel With Assad

Daniel Marriott   |   October 27, 2014   11:03 PM ET

Western foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq & Syria is an incoherent and ineffective mess. It is becoming painfully obvious that the lazily sporadic Western/coalition air strikes in the two countries, particularly in Iraq, are proving ineffective at pushing back ISIS, let alone defeating it. The self proclaimed caliphate has infiltrated territory less than 10 miles from Baghdad, and the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga are merely holding the line. The Assad regime appears to be mounting a more effective campaign but nothing close to what is needed to push ISIS into full scale retreat. Meanwhile, ISIS is controlling vast swathes of Iraq and Syria as well as large portions of the populations and natural resources of both countries, giving them the unprecedented influence and power to perpetuate their extremist ideology and carry out tyrannical extreme Islamist oppression not seen since the brutal rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Children are being indoctrinated in extremist controlled schools and the rule of secular law has been brushed aside. The genocidal massacre of the Yazidi population in Iraq and the persecution of Kurds and other minorities are just a handful of the deplorable crimes committed by the organisation. One thing is certain - there is consensus the world over that ISIS must be stopped, but the present strategy simply isn't working.

At the heart of the problem is that current efforts are not only halfhearted, the West is trying to implement a "one size fits all" strategy in both countries. Air strikes weaken ISIS but they do not comprise an effective counter attack to retake the lost territory containing vast swathes of valuable natural and human resources which are fueling ISIS' war effort. History has shown time and time again that air power alone cannot win wars. The current strategy does not take into account the differing contexts and situations on the ground in each state. As far as Iraq is concerned, it is becoming clear that the democratic government in Baghdad is completely inept at governing the territory it does control let alone able to mount a successful counterattack on the ground. This is partly due to the US' premature withdrawal from the country, which had more to do with Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign than with any real confidence that the Iraqis were ready to provide their own security. The Iraqi army has proven to be unorganized and poorly disciplined - leaving in the wake of their hasty retreat scores of technologically advanced US provided materiel which ISIS now uses to its advantage. But despite the fact that Iraq is crumbling before our very eyes, the West is reluctant to provide any real assistance. Baghdad's Western allies have allowed the legacy of Iraq's failings as well as the memories surrounding the loathed Bush Doctrine to constrain the execution of anything close to an effective strategy. No doubt one of the most important things for policy makers to bear in mind when formulating foreign policy are the lessons of history - having an awareness and appreciation for the mistakes of the past and acting accordingly to prevent repetition. But one of the most dangerous paths policy makers can go down is to allow the mistakes of the past to constrain future decision making to the point that fears of public reprisal and concerns of one's place in the history books prevent effective and necessary policy from being enacted. This is what is happening in Iraq. Nobody wants to return to Iraq, but sometimes the only options on the table are bad ones.

The West, particularly Britain and the United States, have become prisoners of the past - afraid to act in fear of repeating the sins of 2003 and the failures of the subsequent occupation, regime change, civil war, and insurgency. This fear is a fallacy. This isn't 2003 and this isn't a regime change. The mistakes of the 2003 invasion and the failures of Iraq can no longer constrain us - it is clear that ISIS can only be stopped and pushed back with a commitment of Western ground troops in Iraq to aid the woefully untrained and undisciplined Iraqi army. Western nations are the only states with the experience and the effective power projection to meet the task at hand, with the Arab League proving yet again to be nothing more than an impotent and ineffective talking shop. Arming the Kurdish Peshmerga as has been widely advocated is a vital step, but alone it is a short sighted strategy aimed at merely keeping Iraqi Kurdistan free from ISIS influence. The Iraqi Kurds have neither the ability nor the will to fight ISIS in the Arab populated regions of Western Iraq where the militants are strongest. The simple fact is that the original Iraq mission remains unfinished and was terminated prematurely for reasons of Western domestic politics. But let's be clear about one thing, a return to Iraq isn't about national security - Theresa May's scaremongering that ISIS poses a threat to the United Kingdom is unfounded and hyperbolic. Neither is a return solely about international and regional security, though ISIS does pose a threat to both. A return to Iraq is primarily about meeting obligation and responsibility. Regardless of the rights and wrongs surrounding the 2003 invasion, to not aid the democratic government in Baghdad is tantamount to a death sentence to a country and people the West owes security to at the very least. Those states in particular which partook in the 2003 invasion and catalysed a chain of events which slowly but surely destabilized the region into its present state are indebted to Iraq. The questionable legality of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation are food for thought but they are now moot points - policy in 2014 should be formulated according to the needs of 2014. Yes we should remember the failings of the past but Iraq now has as close to a democratic government as it has ever had, and to allow that to fall to an extremist group whose ideology we have been fighting for over a decade is simply unacceptable. Granted an ideology cannot be stopped with the use of military force, but the tangible effects of its execution can.

But ISIS' transnational presence across the Iraqi-Syrian border means even if the West does intervene and defeat ISIS in Iraq, the organization maintains a foothold in Eastern Syria. To defeat ISIS, the organization must be crushed in both states. This leads us to accepting an uncomfortable truth; that a tacit relationship with the Assad regime is currently the only way to ensure ISIS is fully militarily defeated in both countries. Western ground troop presence in Syria is out of the question, and the "moderate" Syrian opposition has become so intermixed with the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat-Al-Nusra that the distinctions between moderate secularists and Islamist extremists, albeit non-linked to ISIS, are no longer apparent. The blurring has reached such an extent that it is impossible to support the moderates without aiding Islamist extremists allied to the West's nemesis by default. Similarly to the situation in Iraq, arming Syrian Kurds is a step in the right direction but is not a strategy in itself. The Kurds have little interest or ability to fight ISIS outside Kurdish populated territory. It is becoming all too apparent therefore that the West was right to not intervene in the Syrian Civil War in the aftermath of Ghouta chemical weapon attack of 2013, not solely because the perpetrator of the attack has been unconfirmed (though all evidence points to Assad's Ba'ath regime) but because the Syrian government has proven to be the sole effective fighting force keeping ISIS and Islamic extremism at bay in Syria. An attack on the Syrian regime would undoubtedly have aided an enemy which the West has been combating for over a decade.

I know what you're thinking - Assad is a monster, or more accurately, the ruling Syrian Ba'ath Party regime is monstrous. The extent to which Basher al-Assad is actually in control of 'his' government let alone his country is a matter of debate, but what has been clear for decades is that the ruling regime is one of illiberal and brutal despotism hell-bent on maintaining its grip on power at the expense of the Syrian people and wider regional security. The crimes of the Ba'athist regime became quite clear prior to the onset of the Civil War with the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators in Damascus. One might rightly ask therefore why the West should have anything to do with such a despicable regime. The sad fact is there a few other options. Lamentably, foreign policy and diplomacy is invariably a game of contradictions and hypocrisies, and let's be frank - the Syrian regime is a considerably lesser evil than ISIS. Double standards in diplomacy more often than not serve a purpose and a much needed channel of communication with Assad is no exception. The West maintains close ties with a plethora of questionable bedfellows the world over, many like Saudi Arabia and Yemen possessing far worse human rights and civil liberties records than Syria. Many of these uneasy relationships are forged because they are beneficial economically, but many of these alliances of convenience are essential in the maintenance of international security. Co-operation with Assad doesn't have to be a formal treaty, it doesn't mean the West and Assad would be best friends. Cooperation can come in the form of intelligence sharing or the co-ordination of offensives. A communicative channel with Assad would be an acceptance that the situation in which we now find ourselves is intolerable and that alliances of convenience, as history has shown, serve wider humanitarian interests. If the parties of the Chinese Civil War could put aside their differences to fight Japanese imperialism, if Churchill could sit with Stalin to defeat European Fascism, then London and Washington can call Damascus to defeat ISIS. The beauty of alliances of convenience is that they are just that and nothing more. They serve their purpose and can end as soon as they become redundant.

Paul Vale   |   October 24, 2014    4:32 PM ET

NEW YORK -- “Ebola Hits New York,” screamed headlines across US media on Friday (including HuffPost) following news that a 33-year-old doctor had contracted the virus in Africa before unwittingly transporting it to Gotham.

Paranoia is rife stateside, with cable news shows devoting hours to the “outbreak” (currently four people out of 316 million), puffing the opinion of anyone willing to go on record and say the virus is perhaps more communicable that the much maligned Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined.

However beyond the rational fear of disease, some commentators are using the “outbreak” for political capital ahead of next week’s mid-term elections, while employing the virus as fertilizer for two of America’s great cultural pastimes – "blaming Obama" and conspiracy theories.

Bewigged birther Donald Trump was quick to assign responsibility, tweeting on Thursday night:

This was followed by a further tantrum:

Yet Trump’s late-night sulk was positively tame compared to some of the views being proffered in the God-infused sewers of America’s right wing madhouse.

Earlier this week, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told a radio show that Obama was “deliberately” pushing for an Ebola epidemic to take hold across the US so that the President could institute “martial law”.

Then there was Peter LaBarbera, a social conservative activist who runs the wonderfully named, “Americans for Truth about Homosexuality”, who last week made the handy connection between Ebola and homosexuality, arguing that as the government had made no plans to deal with AIDS (presumably by banning gay sex), they could not be trusted to handle Ebola.

"Condom-less anal sex and homosexual promiscuity are the two largest risk factors in the spread of disease," he said. "They can't even close down a bath house? I mean, they're not serious about that disease so why should we trust them on Ebola?"

This chap wants to talk about male "bath houses"... and Ebola

Erik Rush, a man best know for making a joke about Muslims while the charred victims of the Boston Marathon bombings were still on the pavement, used a recent speech about Ebola to claim the president had “deep psychological problems”.

He said: “Last weekend, Obama addressed the threat to America from the Ebola virus during his weekly television and radio address. Leaving aside the gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations contained therein, what caught my attention was a photograph from the video of the address released by a news agency in which Obama looks completely deranged.”


This old bruiser takes it to the next level

And then there was the John Hagee, a senior Pastor from Texas whose brand of Christianity is more concerned with geopolitics than helping people, particularly when it comes to the borders of the Middle East. He decided to fuse end times theology, the Ebola virus and Israel into a toxic cocktail mixed by the man in the White House.

He squealed: "I want every American to hear this very clearly… our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching and he will bring America into judgment. There are grounds to say that judgment has already begun because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now."

And what form has this punishment taken? “The crisis of Ebola,” said an ageing Hagee, looking close to the Day of Judgment himself.

(H/T Right Wing Watch)

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Mehdi's Minute: From Ukip's 'Calypso Song' to Barack Obama's Embarrassing 'Brother'

Mehdi Hasan   |   October 24, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Do you want my alternative, semi-serious take on the Ukip 'Calypso song'; their new Holocaust-denying ally in Europe; and Obama's coolness versus Cameron's coolness?

Here's the political week in 60 seconds.

  |   October 23, 2014    8:43 AM ET

A 23-year-old Maryland man is in custody after he climbed over the White House fence Wednesday night and was swiftly apprehended on the North Lawn by uniformed Secret Service agents and their dogs.

The incident came about a month after a previous White House fence jumper carrying a knife sprinted across the same lawn, past armed uniformed agents and entered the mansion before he was felled in the ceremonial East Room and taken into custody.

That embarrassing Sept 19 incident preceded the disclosure of other serious Secret Service breaches in security for President Barack Obama and ultimately led to Julia Pierson's resignation as director of the agency after 18 months on the job.

Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said a man he identified as Dominic Adesanya of Bel Air, Maryland, climbed the north fence line at about 7:16 p.m. and was taken into custody immediately by uniformed agents and K-9 teams that constantly patrol the grounds.

white house security

Obama was at the White House at the time of Wednesday's incident.

Adesanya was unarmed when he was arrested, Leary said. Charges were pending.

Two dogs were taken to a veterinarian for injuries sustained during the incident, Leary added.

Video of the incident recorded by TV news cameras shows a man in white shorts on the lawn just inside the fence. The man lifts his shirt as if to show that he is unarmed, then is seen kicking and punching two Secret Service dogs that were released on him.

Adesanya was taken to a local hospital, Leary said, without elaboration.

After Pierson resigned, an agent who once led Obama's protective detail came out of retirement to lead the Secret Service until Obama names a new director, pending the completion of internal and independent reviews of agency practices.

This week, a federal judge delayed the arraignment of Omar Gonzalez, the individual charged in September's fence-jumping incident, because of questions about his mental fitness to stand trial.

Gonzalez has been indicted on several charges, including of carrying a knife into the White House and assaulting two Secret Service officers.

The latest security breach occurred the same day that a gunman went on a rampage in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

No Moral Nation Can Ally With Assad

James Snell   |   October 21, 2014   12:00 AM ET

After nearly four years of almost unimaginable horror in Syria, the prime mover of all the repression, all the brutality, and all the sheer suffering of this cruelest of civil wars is getting what he wanted all along. A myopic and half-hearted aerial campaign is targeting his supposed rivals, and he is being left alone by the international community.

Even Bashar al-Assad's most gleeful propagandists could not have dared to hope that things would work out this far in his favour. Not only are his crimes being forgotten. Not only is his role in creating the humanitarian quagmire which besets Syria and the surrounding nations being minimised or removed entirely, as if swept from the history books.

More than that, he is even being spoken of as a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State. It is enough to make even the most dull-eyed dictator - or the most maniacal mass murderer - pinch himself with glee. Not only have they fallen for it, he must think, they even want me on their side!

But this is exactly what some western analysts - such as Leslie H. Gelb, writing in the Daily Beast - think we should do.

Gelb admits, somewhat to the detriment of his argument, though not to the detriment of the truth, that: '[Assad] remains zeroed in on the rebels, while brokering his own stolen oil internationally on behalf of the ISIS jihadis who took it.'

After years of civil war, Syrian rebels are not in the best shape. This is a statement of fact. It would be intellectually dishonest, however, to omit the causes of this state of affairs. Caught between the twin perils of IS and Assad, and denied all but the most vacillatory international support, rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army have suffered. Of course they have; and so have the Syrian people.

Assad's forces have committed atrocities, both with and without the aid of weapons of mass destruction. More than 11,000 people have been tortured to death in regime prisons, according to the Senate testimony of a Syrian defector. And the state is poised, it seems, to inflict the same grisly fate on many more. This particular fact becomes tired in reiteration - but not less true.

It is also true that international inaction - be it in failing to intervene in the aftermath of chemical war crimes, insufficiently equipping moderate rebel groups to fight against trained soldiers from Assad's army and that of Iran, and not providing the sort of diplomatic recognition that could have put pressure on an embattled tyrant - has helped to create the current terrible situation.

But being complicit in the creation of a scenario in which the theocrat and the fascist can thrive should not mean embracing that most terrible of eventualities. On the contrary, it only doubles the moral obligation of those who - for whatever reason - allowed Assad and IS to ascend to their duel positions of power; rather than shrinking away from confronting this evil, we must fight it - and in any form it may take.

Cosy accommodation with dictators is never something any truly moral nation or coalition of nations should be prepared to countenance - and especially not in this instance: a humanitarian disaster which the UN has been calling 'the worst in its history' since December last year. Things have only got worse in the intervening months.

And the worst of it is yet to come: Assad and the Islamic State are hardly enemies. The regime has co-operated with jihadis of all stripes in the harvesting of oil revenues; it has released suspected Islamists from prison - this as early as 2012 - with the full knowledge that they would join IS and its affiliates; and has continued, as Gelb concedes, to target rebels positions, despite the fact that IS supposedly represents an existential threat to all and sundry. Why? Because it was all part of the plan from the beginning.

If it is true, as Gelb asserts, that 'recently, Assad has been signalling that he sees things differently', this about face is unlikely to come from the goodness of his heart. Monsters rarely change their course of action without a reason, after all. It is more likely to do with the fact that Islamic State has served its purpose. The remarkable variety of those states which make up the anti-IS coalition should indicate the regime's objective. If the United States is willing to tolerate the head-chopping Saudis and dissent-crushing Bahraini monarchy as allies, goes this line of thought, why not Syria?

Why not Syria indeed.

With this sort of slippery diplomatic game afoot, it is absurd to suggest, as Gelb seems to do, that the coalition can find a stable and useful ally in the Assad regime. Furthermore, it is an insult to the collective intelligence of his readers for Gelb to state that '[c]ooperating with Assad is also the only feasible way, at present, to lessen the humanitarian nightmare in Syria'. Assad is not interested in lessening the humanitarian crisis which has befallen Syria since the first flickers of protest against his authoritarian government broke out in 2011. Of course he isn't; he caused that very disaster in the first place.

Allying with Assad would be worse than poor strategy; it would be morally unacceptable to anyone with an ounce of decency, and to anyone with the slightest stake in identifying and punishing his crimes. Ethical triangulation on this scale - even where it not based on a propagandistic smokescreen, the sort which allows terrorists and tyrants to co-operate in butchery - must be resisted.

Until we are able to peer past the obfuscation and the disinformation, and to see this squalid proposal for what it is, we will forever remain to tools of tyrants; dancing to their tunes, abetting their crimes, and excusing the excesses of their governments - all with little thought for the horrors contained within.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor for The Libertarian

  |   October 18, 2014   12:01 PM ET

The Secret Service is charged with watching the president's back, but who's watching his wallet?

When his credit card was declined last month while dining in New York, President Barack Obama wondered if he had become a victim of identity theft.

"It turned out, I guess I don't use it enough," Obama said Friday at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"They thought there was some fraud going on," he said, chatting while announcing a government plan to tighten security for debit cards that transfer federal benefits like Social Security to millions of Americans.

"I was trying to explain to the waitress 'No, I really think that I've been paying my bills.'"

Fortunately first lady Michelle Obama was able to whip out a credit card they could use.

The Huffington Post US couldn't confirm where the president's credit card was declined, but it was previously reported that the Obamas and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett dined at Estela last month. A woman who answered the phone at the posh restaurant in downtown Manhattan Friday told HuffPost that no one was available to talk about the president's visit.

Identity theft is a growing problem and an estimated 100 million people have been affected by security breaches in the past year at retailers like Target and Home Depot.

"Even I'm affected by this," he said.

Obama's Iran Nuclear Policy of Self-Delusion

Nehad Ismail   |   October 16, 2014   10:56 AM ET

According to Reuters (16 October) a senior U.S. official said some progress was made in high-level nuclear negotiations with Iran on Wednesday but much work remained to be done, adding the goal was still to reach a deal by a late November deadline.

The State Department official spoke after about six hours of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Vienna.
Most observers believe that a deal is unlikely in the current round of negotiations.

The Iranians are fully aware of Obama's desperate concessions to induce them to engage in these futile negotiations. A year or so before becoming president, Barack Obama indicated to the New York Times that he would seek co-operation with Iran as a way to extricate the US from the quagmire of Iraq. President Obama had stated unequivocally that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The problem is nobody in the Middle East believes him. Israel as well as the Arabian Gulf States including Saudi Arabia are skeptical.


Writing in the Sunday Times in June 2014, David Frum said that in May 2009 Obama wrote to Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei proposing nuclear talks and unfreezing of relations.
Obama was apparently oblivious to Iran's subversive influence on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Iranian opposition figures I interviewed are amazed at the Obama administration's naiveté in adopting the Iranian perspective on the Middle East. The Iranian regime cannot be trusted in conflict resolution or its nuclear intentions. Iran is part of the problem, and has never been part of any solution.

The negotiations' original July 2014 deadline was extended to November 24th, the anniversary of an interim agreement. Both sides were publicly committed to a deal. President Rouhani denounced Western-led sanctions in a speech to the General Assembly, but reiterated his wish to resolve the dispute with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. President Obama put the onus on Iran, warning that a deal can happen only "if Iran seizes this historic opportunity."

The biggest stumbling block in the last round of negotiations was how much enriched uranium Iran would be allowed to continue producing.
Iran still insists it needs 19,000 centrifuges. Experts believe this number is unnecessary for usage other than nuclear weapons.

Even if Iran finally accepts a substantial reduction to below 5000, does the West really trust Iran? Does President Obama trust Iran?

John R. Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN: "We cannot verify and must not trust Iran's promises on nuclear weapons. Ignore the 'moderate' smokescreen. Sanctions have failed, so our choice is stark: use military force or let Tehran get the bomb".

Iran's state-run Fars news agency reported on May 3rd 2014 that on the eve of arrival of UN nuclear inspectors in Tehran, the Iranian regime's Atomic Energy Organization intended to deny the international inspectors access to Parchin nuclear facility. The IAEA wants to visit a specific location at the site, but Iran has not so far granted access.

According to opposition sources, over the past three years, the IAEA inspectors have frequently requested to visit a certain section of Parchin to study the unknown aspects of the regime's nuclear weapons program, without success.

Barely hours after the signing of an interim agreement in Geneva (24th November 2013) to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear enrichment programme, President Rouhani said the interim deal recognised Iran's nuclear "rights".

US President Barack Obama welcomed that deal, saying it included "substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon". Iran agreed to give better access to inspectors and halt some of its work on uranium enrichment. According to Al Arabiya News, Iran announced just 24 hours before agreement was reached that it could not accept any agreement that did not recognize its right to enrich uranium, a demand the United States and its European allies have repeatedly rejected.

In March 2014, President Rouhani insisted that Iran would not abandon its enrichment of uranium, after US senators called for it to be denied any such right under a long-term nuclear deal.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 9th April 2014 that Iran will never give up its nuclear programme. He said Iran had agreed to the talks to "break the hostile atmosphere" with the international community.

The Arab States in the Gulf region are wary of Iran's real intentions. In Saudi Arabia the perception is that the Iranian nuclear programme is designed to threaten the Kingdom and its allies in the Gulf.

In November 2011 the IAEA published a new report revealing advanced Iranian design for a nuclear warhead developed with the help of former Soviet scientists.
In response to the report. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital route for the oil trade that links the Gulf oil-producing states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the Indian Ocean.

Does the world trust Iran to honour its obligations? The belligerent and often conflicting statements coming out of Tehran are not reassuring.

Many experts are not fooled by the charm offense; everybody in the Middle East knows that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Rouhani can smile but his nuclear objective remains unchanged. As for Obama, he must wake up and stop deluding himself.

Collision Between Geopolitics and Markets

Andy Langenkamp   |   October 13, 2014    9:04 AM ET

At the crossroads

"We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope," said US President Obama during his address to the United Nations. Stock markets still do not feel the same urgency. There is a huge gap between geopolitical reality and the financial markets.

Geopolitically, the world is on edge while global economic growth is mediocre; the OECD has revised growth expectations down for all major countries, apart from India. Therefore, a substantial reaction would not surprise. If (geo)political fires break out or flare up (and if they get enough oxygen), the markets could suffer burns.

No end to history

After the Cold War was over, it seemed as if international peace could be on the horizon. The idea being that the US would keep the world on course with a little bit of help from its allies. Most observers believed the world was becoming a more prosperous and peaceable place. Francis Fukuyama pronounced "The end of history" and proclaimed an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

A quick survey of the current global landscape reveals that the optimism of the 1990s and (to some extent) the early millennium years seems outdated. After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the world needs to regain its political and economic balance. Add to this the relative weakening of the West, the ascendance of countries such as China, the renewed assertiveness of - for example - Japan and Russia, terrorist threats, and tensions at different levels of international relations.

A five level world

These levels can be classified as follows:

• Global: This level constitutes institutions like the UN and the IMF.

• Regional: The world is increasingly divided into regional blocs, for example the EU and NAFTA. On the one hand, this aids coordination and stability. At the same time, it tends to undermine global initiatives. For instance, attempts to agree on a global trade treaty.

• National: Having taken major steps in the past centuries, in recent decades the success of the traditional nation state seemed less certain. It was assumed that globalisation would cause boundaries to blur. Radical thinkers assumed that the nation state would become surplus to requirement. Globalisation has indeed changed the way countries interact in international politics, but it has also disenfranchised large numbers of people, which has led to a revival of the nation state. Especially in the aftermath of the economic crisis. Witness the nationalism in Japan and India. Another case in point is how, during the financial crisis, heads of states and governments bypassed the European Commission and Parliament as they worked around various treaties with intergovernmental agreements.

• Subnational: People are again inclined to look inwards, in response to the fallout of globalisation and the economic crisis. This tendency also applies within individual states. National governments increasingly fail to meet the demands and fulfill the wishes of the electorate so voters focus on their own regions.

• Individual: This may be the lowest level but it has a huge effect on the rest. Open borders make it easier for individuals to contact like-minded people in other countries. Of course, internet and mobile phones are the perfect tools. The Arab Revolutions - most of which have run hopelessly aground - partly gained momentum due to Facebook and other modern media and means of communication.

Failure and explosions all over

A number of players on the international chessboard find it easy to hop between the different levels, like terrorist movements and multinationals. They know how to use the possibilities and shortcuts of a fluid international system. By contrast, nation states struggle to get to grips with changing environments. It could be said that businesses, terrorist movements, and individuals are gaining power at the expense of national governments. Meanwhile, the latter have to go all out to gain a semblance of control (for example, through their intelligence services). Obama described the situation as, "the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world."

Or to quote the US Defence Secretary, "the world is exploding all over." This may be an exaggeration but in any case:

• The region between West Africa and Pakistan is very instable and acts as a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists.

• Russia is taking an aggressive and expansive stance (partly in response to actions by the West).

• It remains to be seen if is the Asia-Pacific region is large enough to accommodate four great powers (the US, China, India, Japan); especially if nationalism continues to gain ground.

• In the West, the political and economic system could run aground. Globalisation has hit home in every way, but people have forgotten to globalise politics. The tensions between globalisation, democracy, and sovereignty will continue to create structural problems.

• The US is uncertain about how to interpret its role of global leader in a rapidly changing world. No other leaders have stepped forward to fill its shoes. In the meantime, we are nowhere close to a well-functioning new international system with fair roles for the likes of China.

If markets have already moved into bubble territory (as many fear), geopolitical triggers that could cause these balloons to burst could be just around the corner.