The demise of the INF Treaty

The United States has just pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Reuters), a 1987 agreement that restricted short-range and medium-range land-based missiles, and Russia has responded by doing the same (NYT).  Both countries accuse each other of violating the treaty (NYT, RT).  Nato seems to be supporting the United States’ decision (Sputnik International).  Escalating matters, Russia has announced that it plans to develop new weapons previously banned under the treaty in response both to the U.S. pull out from the treaty and to previous U.S. weapons development that Russia claims violated the treaty (TASS).

It’s difficult for me to tell, just yet, what is going on here.  Considering the stakes involved, news coverage has been (in my opinion) rather scanty.  What precipitated this pull-out?  Is this a Trump thing?  If so, where was all the usual bellicose blather and self-indulgent fanfare that precedes all Trump initiatives?  Is this a move initiated by Pompeo?  By Bolton?  Who’s pulling this string and why?  Is this a move to bring a militarily unfettered China to the table?  Is the U.S. pulling out of the treaty because the treaty puts the country at a military disadvantage against China (Daily Mail)?  Possibly.  China certainly sees no good in all of this for itself (The Times of India).  The move seems senseless and venal enough to be a Trump move, but, again, without the signature posing and crowing, it could surely have nothing to do with him.  So, what gives?

This situation is both bizarre and boring.  It’s a tedious thing to try to learn about.  It seems to be in the news all of a sudden, with little warning or context, and has received relatively little attention.  The media message seems to be that there is very little to see here, folks.  It feels like being lulled to sleep just before the end of the world.

 

 

 

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No wall

The shutdown of the United States government is now over, and the president has no funding for his wall (Fox, Bloomberg, Washington ExaminerReuters, CNN).  Ann Coulter, spiritual leader of Trump’s base (those who prefer to believe that immigrants are the gravest threat to America’s sovereignty and prosperity) has called Trump, “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States” (twitter, Business Insider, The Hill, CNN).

Following the reopening of the government, Trump made a speech in which he reiterated the talking points that have failed to convince congress to fund his wall since his inauguration (c-span).  He seemed to be trying to convince us that he won–that he convinced the Republicans and Democrats who’ve been blocking his folly to finally see things his way:

I have seen and heard from enough Democrats and Republicans that they are willing to put partisanship aside…they have finally and fully acknowledged that having “barriers,” “fences,” or “walls,” or whatever you want to call it, will be an important part of the solution.

But, no one, other than Trump, seems to believe that (USA Today).  Seems to me, the president has finally hit the wall (or whatever you want to call it).

Longest shutdown ever

The current government shutdown in the United States is now the longest that the country has ever endured (Bloomberg, Reuters).  The shutdown has been particularly harsh on low-income Americans who depend on federal assistance and on those who live in rural states (AP, Axios).  Several federal employees have filed lawsuits against the government demanding to be paid (Bloomberg).

But this is a special day for one federal employee.  For the first time in his life, the president of the United States can claim a genuine and verifiable superlative.  In the face of all those silly boasts about being the best or biggest or most or smartest, finally the president has actually done something more than anyone else.  Considering the general opinion his base has of government, today he has become, I imagine, not just historic, but a little more heroic.

longest shutdown

 

Shutdown

I’ve been trying to figure out why the United States government has been shut down for the last couple of weeks.  The best guess I have is that the U.S. president has decided that getting funding for a border wall from congress (Mexico said no to the requested hand out) is important for his 2020 re-election prospects.  Democratic House leadership seems to agree.  Therefore, the shutdown–or, showdown–revolves around a wall.  President Trump has promised that he will get a wall.  House Speaker Pelosi has promised that he will not.

Trump has tried to frame the issue as a battle over border security, but it’s not–his opponents are proposing funding for border security as well (they just claim that a wall is not the best way to improve it). One might think it’s about money.  $5.6 billion dollars is more money than most people can fathom, but, on a governmental scale, it’s really not that much.  So, are the democrats being stingy?  One might say, ‘why not just approve the money and have done with it–a full border wall likely does more good than harm.’  But, this isn’t an amount that can fund a complete border wall–just a small piece (or, pieces) of one .

But, none of this really matters.  Trump is focused on a wall and sees it as a battle that he must win (USA Today).  He tweets about it a lot.

Trump's border tweets
Click on image for interactive graphic.

The problem, as Adam Smith, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, points out, is that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that a wall is the most effective means of improving border security (The Hill).  “The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

“The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

But this reality is immaterial.  Trump seems to have found that the wall idea is popular with his base and good for applause lines at rallies. This was no accident.  Trump’s early campaign advisors realized that the idea of a wall was a great memory aid for Trump to help him tie his penchant for bragging about his building exploits to the immigration fears of his prospective voting base (NYT).

So, what’s the problem?  Wall/no wall.  $5.6 billion here or somewhere else.  What does it matter?  I think the problem is precedent.  If congress rewards Trump for shutting down the government by giving him this trinket, he–and all future presidents, democrat or republican–will learn that they can get whatever they want by bringing the system to a halt.  While a wall is pretty harmless, someday some fool will want to invade the Middle East again.  And, while congress has proven that it’s pretty useless at stopping such misadventures, at least the system of checks and balances makes doing stupid things a little harder.  Just look at how long it takes to build a useless wall.

Be the media

When I was growing up, there was a local radio DJ who used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out an make some of your own.”  I suppose he meant it as a joke, but the idea stuck with me.

It’s an odd system, the “news” industry.  I think it works like this:  Someone does something or something happens; someone else records the event and reports it to some central clearing house like Reuters or the Associated Press; various news outlets get their copy of the report, maybe put their spin on it, and send it to their editors for review; the editor decides which stories are “important” and posts those; finally, we  (the readers) passively consume the content and consider ourselves sufficiently informed for the day.

We might prefer to go to a single information outlet (such as the New York Times or Fox News) or use an aggregator (like Google News).  Either way, we’re held captive to someone else’s interpretation of what news is important for that day, even if the content is clearly drivel.  Of course, if you don’t like the drivel offered, you can go searching through several news outlets to find out for yourself what’s important.  But, that can take a lot of time.

After thinking about this a bit, I went searching for a better way to collect news items.  I found News API.  Then, I figured out how to make it give me daily headlines that interested me (like this).  Maybe there’s something better available, but this is what I found.  Now, I have curated daily news headlines and an archive of past headlines.  I also added an email subscription feature, so you can get these headlines, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.  You can subscribe here.

I’ve configured the headlines according to three filter categories (news outlets I’m particularly interested in following, no filter, and a topical focus).  This works for me, but I’m open to suggestion.  If you would like to subscribe to the headlines and want to suggest a new filter, please do (you can send me an email).  Maybe I’ll adjust them.

Also, if you’d like to, you can create headlines like this yourself–I’ve tried to make the instructions clear.  After all, if you don’t like the news you’re getting, why not go out and collect some of your own?

A Trump economy?

I’ve been listening recently to claimed accomplishments of the current U.S. administration.  Most of these claims come directly from the current U.S. administration (i.e., “I blow Ronald Reagan away” (Fox News, Washington Examiner))(whitehouse.gov), but there are other sources of breathless adoration as well, for those who care to find it (Washington ExaminerSky NewsGateway Pundit, MAGAPILL).  The challenges I have with all of these list are the conflations of occurrences and responses and of benefits and features.  In other words, there seems to be a lack of interest in arguing that ‘this policy led to this outcome that benefited these people in this way.’  They mostly seem to point to favorable trends or occurrences and assume the president deserves credit for them.

For example, a claim like “Almost 4 million jobs created since election” sounds like a clear victory.  But, how many jobs would have been created without any Trump policies?  How many jobs were created in a comparable time period before the election?  What is the argument for causality?  Upon what basis can we expect that this accomplishment was a response, and not just an occurrence?  In fact, how do we argue that it didn’t occur despite Trump policies?

 

Also, claims such as “Record number of regulations eliminated” or “Moved U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem” might be benefits or they might be simply features–it really depends upon whether one considers regulations to be bad or Jerusalem to be a good place for an embassy.  It would be more useful to describe who benefited and who suffered from such initiatives.
To be sure, the U.S. economy is indeed doing well (CNN, CNS News, MAGAPILL, AP).  However, it seems (based upon indicators such as employment, GDP, and the stock market) to be continuing the favorable trend it has been on since the end of the last recession (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment and unemployment for the last ten years), CNN, Vox, FactCheck.org).  (Mining and logging jobs, in particular, seem to be increasing faster than jobs in other sectors (CNBC, Quartz).)  While it’s a good economy, it’s unclear whether this has anything to do with tax cuts, incentives, or any other recent policy changes (Forbes).  It’s difficult to know what the argument would be, then, that the current economic success (as seen, for example, in the chart below) belongs to the current president any more than to the former.  I can see the turnaround that happened in 2009, but what, exactly, turned around in 2017?  Fortunately, it seems, not much.

Climate Change

The president of the United States has been wondering what happened to global warming (twitter).  Perhaps he feels that he left it behind in California.  And, with the Camp fire in California is now fully contained (Reuters, CBC), he may feel that even that manifestation of global warming is behind him.

Unfortunately for the president, his administration has just released a new report on climate change.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report (Volume I and Volume II) provides detailed information outlining both the environmental and financial costs that the United States can expect to suffer due to global warming.  For example, according to the new report, the damage from global warming could reduce the U.S. economy by ten percent by the end of the century (NYT, The Washington Times).  The report also calls the human cause of global warming “unambiguous” (NYT).

President Trump has weighed in on his feelings about the report (BBC):

“I don’t believe it.”

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)