Weekend Reading, Plus Debate Preview

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First, the debate:

Pat Buchanan thinks Trump can win the debate if he merely exceeds the very low bar which has been set for him:

With only a year in national politics, he does not have to show a mastery of foreign and domestic policy details. Rather, he has to do what John F. Kennedy did in 1960, and what Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

 

He has to meet and exceed expectations, which are not terribly high. He has to convince a plurality of voters, who seem prepared to vote for him, that he’s not a terrible risk, and that he will be a president of whom they can be proud.

 

He has to show the country a Trump that contradicts the caricature created by those who dominate our politics, culture and press.

I tend to agree. This debate is almost entirely about Trump. He is the reason behind all the hype, he is the reason why there will be potentially a Super Bowl level audience. At the same time, he has a higher burden of proof. Right now, the substantial portion of the electorate that is on the fence with him has concerns over his ‘temperament.’ He has been made out to be a loose cannon that will go off at the slightest provocation. Some have intimated that the next major global conflict may arise because of a Tweet.

Trump is also made out to be totally clueless when it comes to policy, in particular foreign policy. These narratives have more or less stuck to Trump, and his success has come in spite of them. The debate offers Trump the opportunity to show the nation that he is taking the office of the presidency seriously. He has to show some basic awareness of the global situation around the world, avoiding a Gary Johnson Aleppo situation.

Stylistically, Trump would do well to avoid the bombast that was a feature of his Republican debates. This is not because it is a negative in and of itself, but because it is overkill. It feeds into the narrative that he is a loose cannon. If Clinton tries to play it tough, in an attempt to show she isn’t afraid to back down to ‘bullies,’ Trump turning the tables and being the smiling charmer that he can be would be devastating.

If Clinton reverts to her natural Typical Politician demeanor, Trump might have to be a bit tougher. He will have to be careful though, due to his reputation and because of the fact that Clinton is a woman. Despite the feminist Strong Independent Woman rhetoric which underpins her candidacy, there’s no doubt in my mind that the ‘sexism’ card will be used if Trump is seen in any way as bullying. Indeed, Obama intimated that it was sexism that was the only reason the election is close.

A word on the moderator, Lester Holt. Due to the fact that the media is in opposition to Trump, I expect the debates to be a Hillary + moderator tag team versus Trump. Undoubtedly, Hillary Clinton, along with Holt, will attempt to play on the loose cannon narrative in an attempt to create some sort of memorable moment of Trump exploding. Trump will score a major blow if he explicitly points this out in real time. There will surely be a moment when the moderator tries to go out of bounds to get Trump. It may be some sort of obscure historical fact, or digging up an old tweet or Trump quote in an interview. If Trump is able to get through this moment, and even reframe it to his advantage,  it’ll be a win.

As for the substance, Hillary Clinton will obviously be more ‘informed,’ in the sense that she is far more skilled at delivering memorized, focus group tested, inane political talking points than Trump is. In comparison, Trump will sound less scholarly.

This won’t matter as long as Trump sticks to his main messaging, perhaps reminding the public that all of the knowledge Clinton and those of her ilk possess has had disastrous real world results in the Middle East, the economy and elsewhere. All talk no action.

Personally, I believe the mainstream media will declare Clinton the winner, no matter what happens, apart from a health issue on her part.

Other Things to Read this Weekend:

An accurate take on the recent goings on in the Syria Conflict:

What happened in Syria is painfully obvious: the Pentagon sabotaged the deal made between Kerry and Lavrov and when the Pentagon was accused of being responsible, it mounted a rather crude false flag attack and tried to blame it on the Russians.

 

All this simply goes to show that the Obama Administration is in a state of confused agony.  The White House apparently is so freaked out at the prospects of a Trump victory in November that it has basically lost control of its foreign policy in general and, especially, in Syria.  The Russians are quite literally right: the Obama Administration is truly “not-agreement-capable”.

 

Of course, the fact that the Americans are acting like clueless frustrated children does not mean that Russia will reciprocate in kind.  We have already seen Lavrov go back and further negotiate with Kerry.  Not because the Russians are naive, but precisely because, unlike their US colleagues, the Russians are professionals who know that negotiations and open lines of communications are always, and by definition, preferable to a walk-away, especially when dealing with a superpower.  Those observers who criticize Russia for being “weak” or “naive” simply project their own, mostly American, “reaction set” on the Russians and fail to realize the simply truth that Russians are not Americans, they think differently and they act differently.

Staying in the vein of American interventions, some Libyans are starting to regret the backing of the US in getting rid of Gaddafi:

As stated by Libyan medical student, Salem:

 

“We thought things would be better after the revolution, but they just keep getting worse and worse.

 

“Far more people have been killed since 2011 than during the revolution or under 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule combined.

 

“We never had these problems under Gaddafi.

 

“There was always money and electricity and, although people did not have large salaries, everything was cheap, so life was simple.

 

“Some of my friends have even taken the boat to Europe with the migrants because they feel there is no future for them here.

 

“I would like to escape this mess and study abroad but I have been waiting a year for a new passport and, even when I do get one, it will be hard to get a visa because all the embassies left in 2014.

 

“So now I feel like a prisoner in my own country. And I have started to hate my own country.”

From the consistently good Jefferey Snider at Alhambra: Like Everything Else, History Repeats (Almost Exactly) Because Power Truly Corrupts:

As with almost everything with regard to global monetary policies, the Fed merely copied the Bank of Japan with about a decade lag (give or take a few years). The idea of “lower for longer” wasn’t made in the USA, it was designed and first implemented overseas by the Japanese. Every policy statement since the FOMC’s December rate decision could have easily just reprinted what I quoted above.

 

And US monetary officials are making the same mistake the Japanese made; they would only get as far as a second rate hike in early 2007 because of it. The reason is the same as now – they mistook the absence of contraction as if it were the start of stable, renewed growth. Not paying any attention to actual monetary conditions, it didn’t matter how narrow the data was in furtherance of that interpretation; BoJ policymakers saw what they wanted to see and used that as if the appropriate standard. In their case it was the CPI back on the plus side (but only temporarily), while in the US since 2014 it has been the official unemployment rate that excludes far too many.

Speaking history repeating, Fannie and Freddie are reverting to housing boom tactics to spur on home buying:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are lowering mortgage standards.  On Monday, the two government-backed housing giants revealed a new program designed to boost mortgage origination among first time buyers and those with low to medium incomes. The new program, which will initially be limited two non-bank lenders, will allow borrowers to include the income of residents that aren’t actually on the mortgage, as well as make it easier for borrowers to include income from second jobs.

 

While these changes may strike some as sensible, anyone who has seen The Big Short would have valid concerns in the oversight of these looser lending standards – especially when you consider that the companies responsible for mortgage origination will not be the ones holding the mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will. It’s always easier to make loans when you know the taxpayers are the ones that will be holding the ris