Economics + politics + a dash of presidential ego = potential disaster

Twenty-first century voodoo economic theories pushed worldwide by populist politicians are speeding the world to the edge of a global downturn. One by one, democratically elected leaders are taking down their smart economists and promoting their own questionable — and politically motivated — ideas about interest rates and banking practices.

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Turkey and the United States are the latest nations whose presidents are pressuring or pushing out their reliable economic advisers, replacing them with ideological loyalists. These presidents’ makeshift monetary mumbo-jumbo is aimed at achieving short-term economic and political gain. As a result, corrections and recessions may be temporarily delayed, but continually loom right around the corner.

From Ankara to Washington, heads of state are demanding that their previously apolitical national bankers cut interest rates to grow their economies, spur investment and combat unemployment. The message to central bankers is clear: Drop the cost of money or lose your job. It’s not an idle threat. READ MORE

Americans are real victims of our trade war with Mexico and China

America has declared war on China and Mexico, but it is a new style of warfare. Or at least it seems so. With the latest volley of levied and threatened tariffs on Chinese and Mexican exports, POTUS has thrust the U.S. into a new phase of economic warfare against both competitors and friends.

Americans, however, will end up paying the price.

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Modern warfare is no longer just conducted by guns and bombs. Wars today are ongoing and take place during what seems like peacetime. Just because a financial war appears bloodless does not mean it is also harmless or without victims. In fact, the silent, unseen economic warfare Donald Trump is waging — and threatens to escalate — is highly effective at hurting both people and nations. READ MORE

Trump has traded American values, interests and dignity for the false promise of Putin’s friendship

Donald Trump is likely to go down as the president who lost Russia. Not for lack of trying to make good with Moscow. In fact, it is because he has tried so hard to make it right and to pursue a personal and respectful relationship with Vladimir Putin that his ability to make any meaningful deals with Russia is doomed.

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The result is an American foreign policy that is stuck with a confrontational posture and caught in a tit-for-tat policy trap preventing the pursuit of real U.S. interests with Russia. The reason is an underlying popular belief that President Trump has been incapable, at best, and, at worst, actively curried personal and political favor from Moscow over the years — regardless of what the Mueller report says or how it is interpreted.

From his 2016 campaign fumbles to his presidential summit stumbles, Trump has made an unending string of unforced errors that have caused Americans to question his motivations. That perception and reality actively limit his latitude for dealing with Russia. READ MORE

Trump strikes out in rejecting Cuban baseball agreement

Baseball is a colorful sport where bleacher bums spend entire games browbeating umps for making early-inning bad calls. President Trump has made a lot of bad calls during the past two years, but none is likely to incense the general public more than his decision to dump the Major League Baseball Cuban player agreement.

Well, maybe healthcare.

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Unbelievably — and unceremoniously — Trump just struck out with both American and Cuban baseball fans. For Miami, it’s bad enough that the Marlins are dead last this early in the season. What’s worse is that POTUS just shut down the deal that would have brought a few more gifted, big-bat Cubans into the league. As Marlin Stadium habitués might put it: “Throw the bum out!” READ MORE

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago could be ‘Mar-a-Leako’ to our enemies

Friends and foes, foreign born and homegrown, regularly try to breach the tight security that surrounds an American president. No barrier is too big or technological hindrance too intimidating to stop concerted attempts to access the president and his data. While the risks of getting caught are huge, the rewards for success are immense.

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To get the goods — whether snapping a selfie, scoring state secrets or taking a potshot — the determined go to extremes to climb fences, get across gates and search for technological backdoors. Most disturbingly, the president sometimes ushers the ill-suited or ill-meaning through the front door and into the inner sanctum.

It’s time to close the windows, lock the doors, make new keys and develop new protocols. READ MORE

Trump’s foreign policy is pushing allies into China and Russia’s waiting arms

Nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula have diminished since last summer’s Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. In the run-up to this month’s Vietnam summit, Trump is acutely aware that a potential landmark deal on Kim’s complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization would be a significant foreign policy win for him, the region and the world.

Unfortunately, that potential deal is where Trump’s foreign policy successes both start and end.

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By any other measure, the president’s aggressive pursuit of nativist policies has weakened America’s global leverage, given its adversaries strategic openings and made the world a little less safe for democracy and human rights. In normal times, this would be seen as a failure of leadership and a threat to America’s fundamental values, global stature and international dominance.

These are not, however, normal times. READ MORE

CNN Newsroom: A look at NATO & Montenegro

Kounalakis on if US should defend NATO countries: "We answered that question a long time ago"

Markos Kounalakis, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, discusses the uncertainty around President Trump's comments about NATO.     CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

Markos Kounalakis, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, discusses the uncertainty around President Trump's comments about NATO.   CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

Trump moves fast and breaks things to disrupt world

Hang out in any Silicon Valley café and the word “disruption” is sure to be uttered at a nearby table. It is the keyword to unlock funding for forward-leaning ideas and the approach toward cutting out the middle man in transactions, leaving behind the inefficiencies in mediation, and burying the slow-to-change and inertia-bound in industry. Disruption is everything and everyone wants a piece of it. Including the American people.

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Disruption has hit every industry, from car transportation services to hotel lodging. 2016 brought it to foreign policy when a tried, tested and predictable former secretary of state was turned down for her star turn at the U.S. presidency in favor of a bull in the china shop disruptive agent of anti-globalist chaos and firm believer in realism’s international anarchy.  

As in every case of disruptive change, there are decided winners (Uber, Airbnb) and clear losers (taxis, hotels) and a lot of people out of work and scratching their heads because they didn’t see what just hit them.  READ MORE

Kanye West can help Trump recognize the Armenian genocide

Armenia is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Kanye West and the Kardashians. Truth is, however, Kanye has always cared and sang about justice and his wife's Armenian-American family has always felt strongly about the need to recognize one of the world's greatest crimes and injustices — the Armenian genocide.

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Kanye should leverage his newfound kinship with President Trump to prod him towards doing what no other sitting American president has done: Use an executive order to declare that the murderous events of 1915 were the world’s first modern genocide.

Genocide means a single group is targeted for systematic and premeditated death and extinction. Armenian families who survived the genocide await the world’s recognition of this reprehensible event. America officially regards it as regrettable, unfortunate, and tragic, but does not recognize it as the event that spurred the word “genocide.” It is time.  READ MORE

Putin’s power, arrogance lead to costly Russian miscalculation that unites West

Vladimir Putin has spent years trying to divide the West by undermining elections, invading neighbors and aggressively using Russian oil and gas as a ham-handed bargaining tool. These concerted and clever efforts have suddenly, however, revealed the New Putin: Despite his best efforts and plans, he’s become a uniter, not a divider of the West.

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Early 2018 had Putin heading towards a staggering, but not surprising, electoral victory against dead and disqualified opposition candidates. This dominance allowed Russia’s president to ride his eventual 76.6 percent final poll tally to a new level of cavalier confidence on the global stage. Political dominance at home and fawning support from President Trump gave him a delusional sense of invincibility. It led him to overreach and miscalculate.

Now, well over 20 Western countries have joined together to give Putin the one-finger salute for a U.K. chemical agent attack he is suspected of either directing or condoning. The targets in the assassination attempt in Salisbury were a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia.  READ MORE

Trump’s awful phone diplomacy boosts Russian meddling in Mexico vote

Phone calls are not President Trump’s best tool for international charm offensives. He hung up on Australia’s prime minister a year ago, nearly changed U.S. policy toward Taiwan and China in another conversation when he was president-elect, and, this week, further offended Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The end result of the Feb. 20 call is that Peña Nieto canceled, for a second time, a planned White House visit. It may also have locked in a win for a far-left presidential candidate in the July 1 Mexican national election — an election in which the Russians are working overtime to actively disrupt and influence.

In this photo taken Jan. 28, 2017, President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Transcripts of President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia in January offer new details on how the president parried with the leaders over the politics of the border wall and refugee policy, with random asides on subjects including drug abuse in New Hampshire. Alex Brandon AP

In this photo taken Jan. 28, 2017, President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Transcripts of President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia in January offer new details on how the president parried with the leaders over the politics of the border wall and refugee policy, with random asides on subjects including drug abuse in New Hampshire. Alex Brandon AP

The president’s poor phone etiquette further jeopardizes the already slow progress in the NAFTA renegotiation, adds a new strain to diplomatic relations with a border neighbor, hinders cooperation in combating drug trafficking and makes immigration issues even touchier. And with every notching up of tension with Mexico, the Trump border wall becomes an even harder sell in the nation he insists must underwrite itREAD MORE

Cowering for profits: US firms in China sell out America by bending to Beijing

American technology companies operating in China had a secret weakness, one that is not so concealed anymore. Not after an apparently bad miscalculation in which Intel gave the Chinese government an incredible security advantage that the tech giant withheld from the U.S. government. Oops.

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What happened? It appears Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel recently tipped off the Chinese government about flawed computer chips’ security vulnerabilities well before letting American government and industry officials know. Whether Intel did this consciously or accidentally, the move is deeply concerning because it could have handed China a digital key to unlocking secrets and proprietary data around the world. National security may have been compromised and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden has already called the episode "troublesome."

Even worse, Intel is not alone.  READ MORE

Hostile Turkey warns U.S.-backed Kurds, aims to sideline Washington

Simmering for years, the full outbreak of hostilities between American-backed forces and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey is now finally at a boil. Turkey, an unreliable NATO ally at best, has again made clear that the U.S. is not welcome in the neighborhood.

President Erdogan just threatened to crush the “terror army” — what he calls the American-armed and supported Kurdish troops assembling on Turkey's Syrian border — by putting the developing 30,000 Kurd anti-ISIS force directly in Ankara’s crosshairs. Erdogan promised to “strangle” this U.S.-backed force “before it’s even born.”

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Turkey’s aggressive threats and active troop movements dissolve U.S. hopes for a more stabilized region and further diminish America's already waning influence in the broader Middle East. An increasingly present and embraced Russia and more regionally assertive Iran also further sideline America. The newly developing anti-American power dynamic certainly dashes any plans to “take the oil” from Iraq and Kurdistan, as candidate Donald Trump suggested in 2016.  READ MORE

2018 could lock-in Trump privilege, power in foreign policy

The last line of defense in checking President Donald Trump’s foreign-policy power is the old guard of the Republican Party, and those watchmen are about to go quietly into the night.

A 2018 Republican sweep would cripple two key Senate committees, moving them from painfully ineffective to plainly inconsequential. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee are supposed to oversee the foreign-policy and the national-security apparatus. Trump has brought them to heel.

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He has belittled the outspoken Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who became a lame duck by giving up a 2018 reelection bid (Disclosure: Corker held my presidential appointment from Senate confirmation in 2016). Sitting out alongside him is another committee member, Trump-critic Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, leaving a handful of cowed Republicans and the minority Democrats to try to counter Trump policy tweets and fight for a systematically well-formulated foreign agenda.  READ MORE

Donald Trump is decimating America’s tourist economy

SAN FRANCISCO 

Brown soot-filled skies darken this San Francisco day as homes and fields burn a few miles north in Napa and beyond. It is the worst regional fire here in generations.

Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and now Northern California — tourist destinations all — are reeling from a death toll and economic hit brought by hurricanes, floods, and fires. Rebuilding everywhere will be expensive, and federal money will only go so far. America’s nearly $500 billion annual tourist industry would be expected to help fuel the revenue growth that will fund local economic resurgence.

But not this year.

An area resident evacuates his Silverado Trail home as flames from a wildfire approach Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli AP

An area resident evacuates his Silverado Trail home as flames from a wildfire approach Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli AP

On the heels of the Donald Trump election, Las Vegas mass shooting, Muslim travel bans, an alt-right resurgence, and a palpable negative shift in how America is perceived globally, nations are issuing U.S. travel warnings and fanning fears of an America that no longer welcomes foreigners or succors its own citizens.

Take Mexicans, for example. President Trump actively denigrates them, so they increasingly have decided to stay home this year. That means the U.S. will lose over a billion tourist dollars from Mexico. Estimates for 2018 are even worse. Travel professionals see the dramatic drop in U.S. tourism as an international reaction to America’s new politics. They call it the “Trump Slump.”

READ MORE

Nuke deals are for suckers

Nuke deals are all the rage these days. The United Nations sees nuclear accords as a path to world peace. President Barack Obama worked toward a “global zero” nuclear-free future.

President Trump, on the other hand, is highly skeptical of deals with Iran and North Korea because he understands what Tehran and Pyongyang leaders already know: Nuclear disarmament deals are for suckers.

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Countries generally balk at giving up their hard-won and expensive nuclear capabilities because nuclear weapons are a time-tested and reliable deterrent. Giving up these weapons requires faith that any agreement inked is rock solid and that the countries agreeing to unilateral nuclear disarmament are assured they will not wind up like Ukraine or Libya – invaded or overthrown.

Trump does not inspire this faith. Neither does he have faith that the other side will do as it’s told. READ MORE

Trump trash-talks his way into war

Sandbox politics is hard to watch, but easy to interpret. One side hurls an insult, the other responds louder and more offensively. The exchange ends with thrown sand or thrown fists. Bloody noses and bruised egos follow.

Ask any parent. Or Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who just called the President Trump-Kim Jong-Un war of words a “kindergarten fight.” No one wants to be lectured by Russians about civility, but the man has a point. The childish Trump-Un verbal showdown is frightening. It could lead to war.

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The world may be beyond shock or outrage given last year’s rude and raucous presidential election. But every once in a while it’s worth stopping to ask how we got here and what it means.

POTUS is name-calling, potentially making a bad situation with North Korea worse. Un deserves every epithet flung his way, of course, but what’s unprecedented is the loud, public invective coming from the leader of the free world and commander-in-chief of the world’s greatest military force.  READ MORE