US Opinion and Commentary

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Finally, the Asian Pivot?

Posted September 6th, 2016 at 6:11 pm (UTC-5)
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Barack Obama’s tenth and final trip to Asia was billed as an opportunity to demonstrate the how the “centerpiece” of U.S. foreign policy is the “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific region.
Obama has been trying to pivot to Asia for much of his time in the White House, but events in the Middle East and Europe have drawn an extraordinary amount of attention.
Trade, climate change and the situation in the South China Sea sat atop his agenda. But attention has again been diverted by a perceived slight by China, a slur by the Philippines president and doubts that Obama can get the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal passed by Congress.
For all the time and effort Obama has put into pivoting to Asia, how much will have to be left for the next president?

Alliances and the Blurred Battle Lines Against ISIS in Syria

Posted September 2nd, 2016 at 4:28 pm (UTC-5)
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Battle lines and alliances seem to be getting murkier in the U.S. fight against Islamic State in Syria.
Last month, Turkey sent tanks and warplanes over its border with Syria in an offensive against Islamic State forces while also targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, whose success against ISIS brought it too close for Turkey’s comfort.
On the day the offensive began, Vice President Joe Biden stood side-by-side with Turkey’s prime minister, signaling which ally the U.S. was standing behind.
How the U.S. will keep both Turkey and the Kurds on its side is just one of the many diplomatic dramas playing out as the five-and-a-half year Syrian civil war continues with no end in sight.

Trump, Mexico & Immigration

Posted September 1st, 2016 at 5:14 pm (UTC-5)
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Expectations had been raised by some close to Donald Trump that the Republican presidential candidate would be softening his strident rhetoric ahead of Wednesday night’s policy speech about immigration.
And when it was announced he was accepting an invitation to meet with Mexico’s president Wednesday afternoon, expectations were further raised: Could Trump reverse the criticism that he cannot act presidential?
By all accounts, Trump comported himself in a manner one would expect from a world leader, standing side by side with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City, delivering readouts of their meeting.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Trump said they did not discuss who would pay for the wall Trump, if elected president, vows to build between the two countries — and make Mexico pay for it.
After Trump left Mexico, Peña Nieto tweeted that he began the meeting by telling Trump Mexico would not pay for the wall.
And once he got to Phoenix, Arizona to deliver his immigration policy speech, it was vintage Trump, outlining a 10-point plan to aggressively attack illegal immigration, including making Mexico pay for a wall.
It was a day that left many Republicans wondering which Trump to expect.

The Foundational Criticism of Hillary Clinton

Posted August 31st, 2016 at 12:09 pm (UTC-5)
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The controversy over the connection between then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation continues to hound her as she runs for president.
E-mails surfaced this month indicating some donors to the foundation asked for — and were granted — meetings with Secretary Clinton.
Donald Trump called it “pay for play” and says the Clinton Foundation ought to be shut down with a special prosecutor appointed to investigate.
There’s been no evidence, so far, to support the “pay for play” charge. Clinton dismissed the criticism, telling CNN “there’s a lot of smoke and no fire.”
An open letter on the foundation’s website from former president Bill Clinton outlines steps that would be taken to limit donations and separate himself and his wife from the foundation if Mrs. Clinton wins the election.
Large donors usually have loud voices when it comes to political campaigns. Is this corrupt practice or politics as usual?

The Ever Tenuous Alliance Between the U.S. and Turkey

Posted August 10th, 2016 at 4:27 pm (UTC-5)
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As Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to mend fences with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, the rift between Ankara and Washington seemed to widen a little more.

Turkey’s Justice Minister fired verbal a warning shot to the United States: hand over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey claims was behind a July coup attempt, or risk sacrificing America’s relationship with its NATO ally.

Gulen has been living in self-exile in the U.S. since 1999. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau says extraditing Gulen is a “legal, technical process…governed by a 1981 extradition treaty.”

Turkey and Russia have been on opposite ends of the war in Syria, magnified in November when a Russian warplane that strayed into Turkish airspace was shot down. Now, foreign policy experts are trying to read the tea leaves from the Erdogan-Putin get together.

Trump’s Economic Blueprint

Posted August 9th, 2016 at 5:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Donald Trump tried to turn the page on a week of political controversies with a speech outlining his economic policies.

In Monday’s address to the Detroit Economic Club, Trump embraced tax rates that congressional Republicans have proposed, which includes a large cut for the wealthiest Americans. He also proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rate from from 35 percent to 15 percent. Trump said he favors tax deductions and credits for child care, eliminating the inheritance tax and a freeze on regulations that Republicans say stifle economic growth.

At least for a day, Trump seemed to be in step with most in the party he represents.

A Quadrennial Quandary for the Olympics

Posted August 5th, 2016 at 5:14 pm (UTC-5)
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It’s a question asked every four years: Are the Olympic games worth the enormous amount of money needed to stage them?

So far, the tally for the Rio de Janeiro games is $4.6-billion and counting. Some estimates put the costs between $12 and $20-billion as associated infrastructure costs are added.

But even the high end of the estimates will fall short of the nearly $22-billion spent by Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

The budget-busting price tags have some considering alternatives such as permanent sites that get the games on a rotating basis and spreading out the games to many sites that would host one event.

While the Olympic torch lights up the skies over Rio de Janeiro, Brazilians hope they won’t get burned too much.

What to do about Syria?

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 4:56 pm (UTC-5)
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It’s hard to imagine conditions in Aleppo getting any worse. But in the past few days, the rebel stronghold has been subjected to attacks from Syrian government forces who surround the city, aided by Russian air strikes. Gas attacks have been reported in Aleppo and the city of Saraqeb, which Syrian and Russian media blamed on rebels.

Humanitarian corridors have been created, but just a handful of Aleppo’s quarter of a million besieged have used it, fearful of a worse fate in the hands of the Syrian government.

In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set an August 1 deadline for a political transition in Syria. On Monday, Kerry put the onus on Syria and Russia to stop the cycle of violence in order to negotiate.

Is there an end in sight?

Gold Star Family Feud

Posted August 2nd, 2016 at 5:51 pm (UTC-5)
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After saying Donald Trump is “unfit” to succeed him as president, Barack Obama asked prominent Republicans “if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John McCain among other Republican icons have denounced Trump’s reaction to criticism leveled by the Gold Star parents of an American Muslim soldier who was killed while protecting fellow soldiers and civilians in Iraq.

Khizr Khan, with his wife at his side, addressed the Democratic National Convention last Thursday, saying “if it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.”

Trump’s tweets and remarks in an interview afterwards has consumed the political atmosphere for five days now. On Monday, Trump said U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan would not have been killed 12 years ago if he were president then because he wouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq back then.

When asked whether anything useful will come out of this feud with Trump, Khan told VOA “It really, really has come out that a significant larger number of Republicans are asking him to tone down, change those derogatory remarks about minorities, not only just Muslims but other minorities.”

The political fallout from all this is still being calculated.

Putin, Trump & Clinton

Posted August 1st, 2016 at 5:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Television interviews of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over the weekend created more controversy for both candidates on issues that have dogged them so far this campaign season.

In an interview with FOX News, Clinton said the FBI Director backed up her claims that she did not send any classified information over her private email server. The Washington Post’s fact-checker begs to disagree with the Democratic nominee.

Meantime Trump doubled down on an feud with the parents of an American war hero. Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in 2004 by a suicide car bomb in Iraq. He was awarded the Bronze Star for saving his unit and Iraqi civilians.

And Trump’s responses to questions about Russia and Ukraine just added to last week’s controversy about his suggestion that Russia try to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email to find the 33,000 emails that she deleted from her private server.

Add to the intrigue a new report detailing the connections between the Clinton Foundation and a U.S.-Russia cooperative effort to create an Silicon Valley-like “innovation city” in Russia while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

And there are just 99 days to go before Election Day.

Conventional Clinton Takes on Trump

Posted July 29th, 2016 at 5:23 pm (UTC-5)
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Americans have been fed a steady diet of political rhetoric over the past two weeks, trying to convince them that two people they have known for decades — and generally do not like — should be their next president.

Hillary Clinton finished off this week’s Democratic National Convention with a speech in which she had to walk a fine line to mollify Bernie Sanders’ supporters while reaching out to independents and Republicans who are looking for change, but are wary of Donald Trump.

Polls conducted in the days ahead will show us how the Democrats’ message has been digested. Meantime, reviews and comparisons of the two conventions are coming in. And the acceptance speeches of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can be found below, a way to pass the 102 days still to come before Election Day.

The Makeover of Hillary Clinton

Posted July 27th, 2016 at 4:25 pm (UTC-5)
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When you’ve been in the public eye for 25 years and your unfavorable ratings are an average of 17 percentage points higher than your favorable ratings, what do you to try to change things?

Hillary Clinton’s re-branding effort reached its peak Tuesday night with a lineup of speakers who shared personal stories about her impact in their lives.

The most personal came from her husband, former president Bill Clinton. By reflecting on their courtship, parenthood and her commitment to public service, Clinton the former president did his best to humanize Clinton the wannabe president.

While accentuating the positive, he left out the negative challenges the couple faced, which wasn’t lost on the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Trump has his own 17-percentage point deficit in favorability ratings. Who did a better job to close the gap will be played out over the next few weeks.

Democrats Standing United?

Posted July 26th, 2016 at 4:51 pm (UTC-5)
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From the opening gavel through most of the evening, the old Will Rogers trope “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat” appeared to hold true for the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Bernie Sanders supporters rained boos upon any speaker who uttered the name Hillary Clinton. They also jeered keynote speaker Elizabeth Warren as a traitor to the progressive cause. Not until first lady Michelle Obama delivered a speech that drew near unanimous acclaim did it appear that there would be any semblance of unity.

Sanders closed Monday evening’s session with a strong endorsement of Clinton, taking most of the air out of the Bernie of Bust movement.

Tuesday’s roll call of states to vote on her historic nomination may be the last chance for Sanders supporters to protest Clinton’s rise to head the Democratic Party. After she wins the nomination, it’s all about Hillary.

Her husband ,former President Bill Clinton takes the stage Tuesday night as well as House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, both focused on giving the first woman major party presidential nominee a post-convention boost.

Conventional Unity for Clinton?

Posted July 25th, 2016 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Simmering tensions that ran through the primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders grew to a full boil Monday as the Democrats began their national convention.

Hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee show party leaders were not necessarily neutral brokers, seemingly tilting the scales toward Clinton’s candidacy. The revelations cost the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her job.

Sanders has not withdrawn his endorsement of Clinton, and is expected to reiterate his support in a speech Monday night. But will Sanders’ supporters follow suit?

Accepting Trump’s Acceptance Speech

Posted July 23rd, 2016 at 11:11 am (UTC-5)
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Donald Trump used his acceptance speech to reinforce the themes that catapulted him to the Republican presidential nomination. Anyone who hoped to see a softer, more introspective side of Trump were disappointed.

Speaking for more than an hour, Trump seized on the themes that dominate the much of the news cycle: law and order, safety and terrorism. He reinforced his vision of securing America’s borders with a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And he tried to tie these problems to policies pursued by his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Trump had an enthusiastic audience inside the arena at the Republican National Convention. But with divisions still apparent within the Republican Party over the nomination battle, Trump’s message was aimed at the large number of undecided voters who disapprove of both major candidates.