Earth’s Endorsement for U.S. President

Picking the best U.S. presidential candidate from a markedly global perspective.

Being a spectator from over the other shore of the Atlantic to all the antics that the U.S. Presidential campaign tends to bring out of an uncomfortably large portion of the candidates is admittedly an entertaining way of killing some time. Come Iowa tomorrow though, the mood is about to get more tense and solemn as events to be unfolding from there on are likely to bear primary importance with far-reaching implications for both the parties and the country.

However, the very moment we fully grasp the stakes that this whole show entails, quickly evaporates what little fun is left to make generous accommodation for despondence. After all, Americans are about to elect one of these people to be President of the Earth.

President of the Earth!? Isn’t it way too pompous and arrogant to say that?

Oh, please. Just lean back and let a couple of facts give you a taste.

First up, let’s have a peak at the U.S. military spending. Specifically, note that, according to the estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), how the American budget of $610 billion exceeds the $600.6 billion combined budget of the next seven largest spenders China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India, and Germany. Adding to the sway the U.S. holds over the World, there’s also a certain “network effect” that comes into play through the cooperation between its allies both via formal treaties such as NATO and other multilateral arrangements.

As for the influence the U.S. has on the global economy, this is admittedly an area where a clear-cut appraisal is even less of a possibility. Still, much like a gag reflex, at the mere utterance of the term “global economy” comes the Great Recession of 2008 springing into mind. Among a myriad interconnected causes are there an inadequate regulation of non-depository financial institutions, faulty U.S. government house policies, and a pervasive presence of lax lending standards that eventually gave rise to high household debts and a major real-estate bubble. Well-documented are the major global ripples that the burst of the U.S. mortgage bubble triggered.

On the monetary front, the recent decision by the FED to raise interest rates with the reactions it elicited provides only the latest hint of how dramatic an influence the U.S. has on the entirety of World finance.

The Earth Flag
“The Earth Flag” from Futurama

Alright we can probably acquiesce to the U.S. President being the principal player of the World. But again: President of the Earth?

That’s right, not the World but the Earth. “World” really is just a term we have grown a penchant for casually throwing around to mainly address catastrophic global events and occasionally inspiring stories that involve Humans* living around the Globe, as well as to shield ourselves from the murkiness and intricacies of reality. Indeed, this frame of thinking had been appropriate for tens of thousands of years when Humans sticked to massacring only each other for the crime of belonging to different tribes, religions, countries, ethnicities, and so on.

“But hey, we’ve long since passed the epoch of this sort of exclusivity!,” so argue rightfully the fish, bees, rain forest trees, and let’s just not ignore the elephant in the room: polar bears. Especially them. Come on, they’re not overweight Michael(s?) Phelps(es) dressed in furry white coats to make them have to swim so much for the nearest slab. Give them a break already!

*The category technically includes people with sparse Internet connection as well as those with limited electricity thanks to a grenade launcher attack only minutes before.

 

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Driven by this mindset, let’s have a closer look at the current crop of U.S. Presidential candidates. As a basis for comparison, we are going to make use of the recent New York Times article “Where the Candidates Stand on 2016’s Biggest Issues,” specifically the issues among them that bear the most on global affairs.

For the purpose of grading the candidates, let’s get inspiration from the notion “Worldsuck” from John and Hank Green. In each category, every candidate can earn up to a given number of teardrops, where the maximum number is doled out for the one who takes a position with the most devastating global consequences. Hence, a higher sum total of teardrops forebodes more Worldsuck making the objective to be “staying dry.” Despite all its importance, Worldsuck happens to be a somewhat nebulous concept. Expect scientific rigour accordingly.

Teardrops
The “teardrop” rating system

Specifically, we’re assessing the most influential candidates issue-by-issue with highlighting their more outlying positions. The candidates are Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul from the GOP as well as Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders from the Democrats.

Due to the large number of candidates, only those earning less teardrops than the most possible are depicted in each topic.

Now, let the winnowing begin.

Climate Change

Not only is there a scientific consensus with respect to the reality of Climate Change, but also as the recent conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference showed, all participating 195 countries signed a formal agreement putting on the record their recognition of the issue’s urgency. However, even this sketchy and non-binding deal (individual governments are still to enact it) would prove elusive for the U.S. The current political climate impelled the U.S. delegates to dilute the terms of the agreement so as to stop short of qualifying as a treaty. This technical manoeuvre is to bypass the need of earning congressional approval and make executive action suffice instead.

None of the GOP candidates currently in contention call for action on Climate Change with Bush holding the “most progressive” stance that is to acknowledge at least the reality of it. Marking a nadir of sorts came Ben Carson tweeting a “joint statement” on the recent incident of the Iranian navy taking U.S. marine troops into custody as well as his refusal to accept the reality of Climate Change that “While President Obama is complaining about global warming 10 of our American sailors are held in Iranian custody.” So much for supple prioritization.

The Pentagon considers Climate Change to be an especially grave threat to national security stating that due to the rise in sea level, the mass disappearance of many of the densely populated coastal cities and communities around the World might spark waves of climate refugees and thus a global turmoil; all that exacerbated by food shortages due to the increase of unpredictable and extreme weather events. In light of this, the party that is so eager to claim the mantle of the heroic protector of its citizens chooses strangely to miss out on a chance of a lifetime to live up to its credo.

Providing a sharp contrast are the Democrats, all of whom accept the reality of a man-made Climate Change as well as the urgency of taking action on the issue. Singnalling a willingness to go one step further than the others is Sanders who is the only candidate calling for action to ban fracking.

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Disaster
Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

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Let’s talk Foreign Policy. All articles on a subject matter this diverse, complex, and afflictive are destined to be generalizing, reductive, and occasionally fatalistic. Given that, let’s surrender any aspiration of being representative here and go pick only two topics to give us a taste: the situation in Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Syria

What all the presidential candidates and regional actors agree on is the importance of destroying ISIL. That also marks the point where the agreement ends leaving further questions up for contentious debate. Pressing though might be the issue of defeating ISIL in the short run, not for a second should we take our eyes off the longer-term goals — establishing political stability, properly redressing humanitarian grievances, and rebuilding the conditions that allow for civilians to return home and pursue a normal life. A comprehensive agreement on a political solution in Syria should provide the framework toward these ends through accountability and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all the actors. Sadly though, the current turmoil seems to suck most of the oxygen away from discussions of such longer-term goals.

Instrumental to reaching all this, the main approaches seem to be supporting moderate Sunni rebels, pursuing a drone campaign, implementing a No-fly zone, deploying boots on the ground, and negotiating a political solution. These approaches might be combined along various parameters.

Strategy #1   :   Moderate Sunni rebels

Recent news concerning the sudden demise of Mr. Zahran Alloush, leader of the moderate rebel group Army of Islam, should serve as a sobering recognition of the urgency of settling on a viable policy for Syria and Iraq. Efforts of that ilk have proven especially futile to which only as an admission came Pentagon officials’ announcement of an “operational pause” in the training program which at one point, during September 2015, had as many as “four or five” U.S.-backed moderate rebels fighting in Syria. And not only that, but military aid has the nasty tendency of often falling into the hands of extremist groups.

Calling for the arming and aiding of that half a dozen moderate Sunni rebels are Clinton, Bush, Rubio, whereas those who are calling against it include Sanders, Paul, Cruz, and — in case coke-fuelled bluster qualifies as an argument — Trump.

Strategy #2   :   Drone campaign

The 2003 invasion of Iraq rendered “Boots on the Ground” almost a taboo leaving the U.S. Government with drones as the most devastating weapon its voting citizens can still tolerate politically. After all, a drone strike at a wedding in a culturally different country far-away tends not to put an army of disabled veterans with severe cases of PTSD on U.S. streets for people to bump into. And because of this removedness, even major revelations become lost amidst the deluge of more trivial domestic news and the daily digest of mass shootings.

Adding to the problem is a wide spectrum of experts agreeing that drones are very likely to be counterproductive. Taking these into account, a reliance on drone strikes seems more of a short term hack (an especially brutal one at that) rather than the legitimate part of any long-term solution.

All of the likely candidates support drone strikes to varying extent or at least they didn’t declare their explicit opposition to it.

Strategy #3   :   No-fly zone

The enforcement of a No-fly zone should stand on clearly defined terms, with major actors in agreement with one another, so as to prevent interference and minimize the risk of possible incidents. In recognition of the conspicuous lack of conditions for any of these, President Obama so far has wisely resisted implementing a No-fly zone over parts of Syria. While the protection of Syrian civilians on the ground surely is a laudable aim, the question in such an intricate and high-stakes situation has got to be asked: “At what price exactly?”

Clinton made a point in this vein when she told at a debate in New Hampshire, one of the first primary states, that “I am advocating the no-fly zone both because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians.” She was quick to finish her train of thought by adding “I’m also advocating it because I think it gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia.”

In reality though, not only would such an approach severely jeopardize a fragile situation that has already been strained by incidents like the shootdown of the Russian fighter plane by the Turkish air force (a NATO member no less), but it would also flout international cooperation and promote instead hegemonic aspirations in the region. More important still perhaps is that gaining leverage in such a way might be more effective against an actor that is more rational than the one Russia currently is. Two irrational actors might find themselves caught in a Chicken Game with a tragic conclusion. Now is not the time for America to lose its marbles.

No-fly zone is a policy to which Clinton as well as all the GOP candidates — with the sole exception of Sen. Paul — happen to have proudly subscribed. The other candidate advocating against the approach is Sanders while Trump is sitting on the fence on this one.

Strategy #4   :   Boots on the ground

In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama reiterated his opposition to deploying ground troops in Syria and Iraq in order to fight ISIL: “That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield,” he argued. “ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq, but they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops and draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.”

What the President seems to have implied here though is only a refusal of unilateral action rather than a blanket dismissal of using ground troops. Indeed, six days after the Paris attacks, Clinton gave a comprehensive anti-terrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations where she voiced some criticism of the Obama administration for making a slow progress on deploying special ground forces. As a fine print, for a Democrat going into the Primaries on the heels of a widely popular incumbent, even milder criticism takes on a particular significance. (Fine! Just make sure to avoid mission creep by heeding the example of President John F. Kennedy sending “only a few” military advisers to Vietnam.)

On this one, the GOP candidates happen to mark both extremes of the spectrum. On the one hand there is the all-too familiar holler coming from the Neocon hawks who seem reinvigorated in their thirst for another all-out ground invasion, while on the other hand, there is the quasi-isolationism of Paul.

Calling for a U.S. ground invasion, are Bush, Rubio, and (if somewhat vaguely) Trump, while opposing it are Cruz, Paul, and all the Democratic candidates.

Strategy #5   :   Political solution

However ripe a nominee Bashar-al Assad might be for the distinction of ‘War Criminal,’ simultaneously attacking the Syrian Army and ISIL (another Neocon tidbit) seems to be an astonishingly bad idea. What it would do is generate a power vacuum, something various regional actors have long been craving to fill in and among whom ISIL might be only the latest one. Brutally caught in the midst of all this are the desperate masses of civilians who have already suffered well beyond Western comprehension.

Any political solution must acknowledge and build upon this fact. In fact, the EU has been divided over this issue whose most immediate concerns include the waves of refugees that the ongoing conflict keeps generating; something a weakened Assad who still somehow finds a way to cling on to power might woefully protract.

Thus far, a political solution has proven elusive. A binding international agreement on a process toward a new constitution and elections with UN oversight in Syria had been the goal of the Vienna talks which hit a roadblock over the question regarding Assad’s future. The chief problem seems to be that “The fundamental dynamic of the Assad regime, since it took power in the 1970s, has been minority rule: the Alawites, at times supported by other religious minorities such as Druze and Christians, rule over the country’s Sunni majority. That dynamic was never stable, and it was maybe only a matter of time until it collapsed, violently or not.”

Besides their positions on a No-fly zone, probably this is the most contentious one between Clinton and Sanders. In their Dec 19 debate, Sanders emphasized the priority of dealing with ISIL first and only after that with Assad. And although Clinton started touting the same logic, unless there is indeed an international agreement on a political solution, it remains somewhat harder to picture her following through with it compared to her peers. Until then, Sanders’ position (even if a little vague) remains the more promising one by explicitly cutting the risk of sparking an conflict with Russia and Iran.

As a stark contrast to the Democrats, most of the GOP candidates continue to maintain their general abstinence from contemplating a diplomatic solution, extolling instead their preference for a military action. It seems as though speaking about matters such as diplomacy and complexity doesn’t get the testosterone flowing quite like a fourth grader’s bombasts and macho swagger does.

Syria wrapup

Syria is enmeshed in a very complex situation with key actors pushing for their own agenda (Assad, the Sunni majority, the Kurds, the U.S., the EU, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia) leaving no room for easy answers beyond the destruction of ISIL. That’s exactly what the Democrats — to varying degrees — seem to have realized in that their positions recognize more of the nuances and intricacies that engulf the topic and the region making them more inclined to seek a diplomatic solution.

Often, there’s a sweet spot between action and inaction. While Republicans tend to pushing for a full-on Neocon agenda of military aggression, libertarians like Paul usually go a half to err on the side of inaction. However appealing an isolationist stance might be to moderate voters (with a possible trans-partisan reach) after the Bush era, no response at all probably would not be the right policy either. History far too often has shown us that sitting on our hands while there’s an ongoing conflict somewhere with strong genocidal undertones ultimately becomes humanity’s collective failure as well as an erosion to the authenticity of our international institutions which themselves are supposed to be principal brokers of peace.

On the action-inaction spectrum, Clinton assumes a somewhat peculiar position. While the former Secretary of State rejects the proposition of all-out ground invasion, she seems more inclined than her peers on the Democratic side to utilize a wider array of military tools. A recent GOP debate only highlighted this where “Bush — like the others — failed to articulate a vision for change in the fight against ISIS that was fundamentally different than what Clinton is calling for.” Conservative historian Robert Kagan went so far as to label Clinton’s foreign policy with the ‘N-word’ stating that “it’s something that might have been called ‘Neocon,’ but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that... they are going to call it something else.”

Meanwhile, Sanders seems to be the candidate with the most risk-controlled position in the middle. This is notwithstanding his biggest shortcoming that is a somewhat spotty and vague grasp of foreign policy in general. Also when you add the outlying position of Trump and (to a lesser extent) Cruz, it becomes apparent that a real divide lies not between the two parties so much as it does inside them: between the flanks of establishment and non-establishment.

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Rubio Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

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Iran

The event that has recently generated the most angst in the media was an incident wherein Iranian forces took 10 U.S. sailors into custody after they accidentally crossed into Iranian territorial waters. For a reassuring conclusion, Iran released them unharmed with all their gears intact in a mere 16 hours. But even more reassuring was the fact that messages had been passing directly between Washington and Tehran without intermediaries for the first time since decades.

The story fits snugly in the narrative of the historic opportunity that is now between the two countries to ameliorate their long-standing enmity. Another piece of news to that effect was the prisoner swap that saw the release of 4 U.S. citizens, among them Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

Casting some shadow on it however is Iran’s latest missile test for which the U.S. doled out a new round of sanctions. Many share the trepidation of Shane Bauer (a journalist freed from an Iranian prison himself back in 2011) according to whom

“It’s too soon to say whether the era of Iranian hostage taking is over. The unjust imprisonment of innocent people will always be Iran’s responsibility, and it’s up to its government to end it. But we don’t need to make things worse. Right after these four Americans flew out of Iran, the Obama administration announced it would be applying new sanctions on Iran—the same sanctions Clinton had called for. It had been planning to do this, it turns out, for some time, something the former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic nominee was likely aware of. To be sure, these sanctions, which target just a few individuals and small companies that send crucial technologies to Iran, are nothing like the ones that were just lifted. The old ones cost Iran $30 million a day, draining its economy and weighing on the lives of regular Iranians, many of whom oppose their government. But these sanctions send the wrong signal.”

Especially that these kinds of signals might boost hard-liners’ odds of getting elected now that Iran is looking to hold elections next month.

Especially now that the U.S. is in election fever pitch with most the GOP candidates having already signed a carte blanche (or rather “carte noire”) of continued hostility toward Iran.

And especially now when a follow-through on the Nuclear Deal is still up in the air.

Speaking of which: Despite the sustained hysteria from the conservative punditry, the deal never really had a viable alternative. The most substantive arguments against the deal remains a windfall of some $100 billion due to the thawing of Iranian frozen assets. The concern is that much of it would go to funding proxies like Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and to prop up the Assad regime (all the more reason to concentrate solely on ISIL for now). Mollifying this argument is that European sanctions toward Iran have been on the outs anyway.

The the strongest part of the deal in legal terms perhaps is the innovative sanctions regime that obligates Iran to grant admission of the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to their facilities at any time requested. As soon as Iran blocks their admission or is found to have stopped upholding its end of the deal in any other way, sanctions automatically snap back. Hence the tagline of the Obama administration: “Not trust but verification.”

As Iran was getting on the precipice of becoming nuclear, we should rejoice in not having to wait and see for ourselves whether or not it delivers on its promise to “wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.” That’s just simply not among the sorts of risks we should tolerate being put up with. But perhaps the single biggest achievement of the deal is that it helps obviate a nuclear arms race in the region. Once Iran got its hand on a bomb, the Saudis would very likely follow suit. The recent hostility sparked by the execution of a prominent Shia cleric by the Saudi government and the ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran afterwards only adds further emphasis to this point. Looking from this angle, what the cash windfalls does in the worst case is that it shortchanges a single major threat (the bomb) to several smaller ones (the arming of proxies).

Another threat of a nuclear Iran is that it could provide a strong incentive for the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel to carry out a preventive strike. Waiting with an eager readiness on the sideline is the Republican establishment with all of its candidates staunchly defiant of the nuclear deal and supportive of a hardline position instead. This atmosphere has a particularly troubling undertone to it: Is ‘regime change’ about to come back from the graveyard of miserably failed policies?

The U.S. has a well-documented inclination for regime change in the region and elsewhere, yet it’s not just the bulk of the GOP that acts as a source of apprehension. Despite all the bluster, a few GOP candidates — among them Paul, Bush, and Trump — pledged not to “tear up the deal” leaving Cruz and Rubio in the hard-liner camp.

Clinton never fully embraced Obama’s adage of “Not trust but verification,” taking it instead one step further to make it “Distrust and Verify.” The former Secretary’s reluctant support for the nuclear deal, in slight opposition to a president who’s widely popular among her own constituency just as she is about to launch her presidential campaign carries a particular weight. In addition to it, if given the opportunity, besides the GOP there are also Senate Democrats (among them Senators Benjamin L. Cardin, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, and Joe Manchin III) with whom Clinton could work on switching to a harder line on Iran. At the first Democratic debate on October 15 2015, she even made a punchline out of her enmity toward Iran by declaring “the Iranians” as one of the enemies she is most proud of having.

Providing an unusual contrast in traditional U.S. politics, Sanders made an important gesture of publicly reckoning with the controversy of the CIA-led military coup against the secular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Although his own handicap still remains a limited experience on foreign policy (especially when compared to Clinton’s), he indicated a willingness to soften the U.S. foreign policy approach working with traditional foes like Russia in resolving international situations.

Utter
Disaster
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Cruz Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

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Refugee Crisis

The burning issue of the refugee crisis of course is intimately related to U.S. foreign policy. It is only prudent to start off by applauding the heroic efforts of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon in ameliorating the crisis by accepting a disproportionate number of refugees. And while Germany’s inspiring commitment to accept 800,000 refugees, the EU as a political organization has — for the most part — failed us for not yet having implemented a fair and balanced distribution of refugees across its member states. Much as Europe bears a formidable amount of the culpability for a substandard management of the situation, it still pales in comparison to the share the U.S. is entitled to claim with official plans contemplating the acceptance of some 10,000 to 30,000 refugees.

The obvious moral imperatives and stipulations by international law aside and, there are actually several incentives for the U.S. to take an active role in handling the crisis. Admitting refugees would make for a smart long-term strategy — albeit with short-term expenses — by providing a golden opportunity to give a first-hand experience of a viable secular alternative as opposed to theocratic aspirations. This could be one prong of a complex counter-terrorism strategy as it might the U.S. less of a target of religious extremism. All the while, the U.S. could put some pressure on the Saudis and other Gulf States to take their share of handling the crisis (so far they have refused to take in any refugees). This would help distribute the effort more equally, and — as a result — temper the emergence of long-time intimate partners anti-Muslim sentiments and far-right extremism (with a serious crush on Russia) in Europe.

Once again, the spectrum of Republican positions has been a slightly qualified flat-out refusal of admitting refugees. The only compromise has been to allow only Christian refugees (Bush, Cruz). Not only does this profoundly distasteful idea violate the Constitution at the heart which lies freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but it would also most likely be ridiculously impractical. Naturally, none of this makes it any less tasty of a red meat to their constituency.

Drawing a sharp contrast are the Democratic candidates, all of whom have been calling for admitting Syrian refugees irrespective of their religion. Though Martin O’Malley has been the first to assume the most progressive position thus far by proposing to take in some 65,000 refugees, fellow Democrats were quick to follow suit. Nonetheless this figure still lags far behind Germany’s commitment, especially for a country four times the population. The contrast only sharpens when we account for one of the most pungent moral points according to which “it could also be argued that Western nations have both a legal and moral responsibility to provide for those who are fleeing countries that their actions (and omissions) have destabilized, such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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Paul Teardrops
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Bush Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

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Finally, a few thoughts on the financial system and regulations.

Global Finance

The recent wither of the Chinese stock markets reignited a general anxiety about the state of the global markets the reasoning of which is rooted deeply in its vast, intricate nature, and highly oblique connectedness. Quickly followed Paul Krugman’s soothing argument according to which, ugly as though it might look, the U.S. with most of the World has structurally less of an exposure to China to make it a full-blown global threat. Awfully well-documented became the fact that the same doesn’t hold for the U.S. stock market. According to Mr. Krugman,

“One reason America’s subprime crisis turned global in 2008 was that foreigners in general, and European banks in particular, turned out to be badly exposed to losses on U.S. securities. But China has capital controls — that is, it isn’t very open to foreign investors — so there’s very little direct spillover from plunging stocks or even domestic debt defaults.”

However as Mr. Krugman hastens to comfort us in our distress, he admits it in the same breath that he isn’t quite as relaxed about his own analysis he feels he should be on the grounds of rationality. What probably qualifies his own calm is a deep understanding of how much the quirks of the human psyche with its myriad cognitive biases play into decision-making.

Consider now a scenario wherein human psychology meets with lax regulations and a set of incentives that prefer short-term gains over longer-term ones. Now give the combo sufficient amount of time, and chances are that ultimately something nasty ends up emerging from it. In fact when human psychology gets thrown into the mix, even small-scale straightforward situations, such as the Prisonner’s dilemma, come to baffle us. Apply it to a system that’s complex in its own right and the picture gets even more counter-intuitive and confusing.

At this point, one might jump in to ask “If it’s difficult enough to grasp the quirks of human psychology, why further aggravate the situation with systemic deficiencies?,” and she would be dead on.

The Big Bank Theory

Since one of the most calamitous sort of events happens to be the popping of a market bubble (a lot less fun than it felt typing), a principal goal of lawmakers and regulators should be the maintenance of conditions that make it harder for them to emerge. When an economy structurally relies too heavily on companies that hold significant amounts of systemically overvalued assets, chances increase that a crisis occurs that calls for a costly bailout in order to avert a financial meltdown. This sort of a “blackmailing potential” is what has earned such companies the infamous title of too big to fail, as well as it gives them an unfair edge of lower insurance rates and cheaper credit over their smaller competitors. After a number of major legislative actions, perhaps most prominently Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, the major indicators suggest that by now the economy has largely recuperated.

However at the corporate level there remains a number of practices that leave the door open for abusive use, among them recently coming into the spotlight is the overuse of stock buybacks. This occurs when corporations put a disproportionately large share of their revenue not into wages and innovation but rather to beef up their equities. Fear has it that at the expense of the real economy, buybacks inflate stock prices increasing causing a systemic overvaluation. The perks of the status “too big to fail” coupled with corporate practices akin to stock buybacks might lead to a myopic over-admission of risk where the former serves as incentive and the latter produces the instrument for it. Such a constellation seems to increase the odds of bubbles to re-emerge.

Politics and policies

Since the 2008 crisis, certain ‘fringier’ segments of politics has adopted the agenda of “Breaking up the big banks.” Populist and even angry though it may sound, there’s more than a grain of rationale to it as it seeks to incentivize a more responsible investorial behavior: Take upon your own risk. A reduced size would curb their “blackmailing potential” rendering them less speculative as from then on, they would have to operate under the full weight of the prospect of an actual default.

This risk-curbing was one of the objectives the Dodd-Frank legislation had in mind, nonetheless without the actual breaking-up of any bank. Clinton has been supportive of Dodd-Frank even receiving advices from one of its principal authors. Nonetheless, she remains strongly disapproving of any plan to break up big financial institutions.

From time to time however, raising concern is there news surfacing about the presence of certain loopholes still left in Dodd-Frank. In recognition of the fact that the overwhelming complexity of the Dodd-Frank act increases the possibility for loopholes Sanders — along with fellow progressive stalwart Sen. Elizabeth Warren — has been calling for a more sweeping financial reform built on a simpler code. Apart from limiting their clout (aka. “breaking them up”), he prefers reinstating a modernized version of the Glass-Steagall Act from 1933 (a legislative response to the Great Depression strictly separating investment and commercial banking), an approach Nobel-laureate Joseph Stiglitz has been a vocal advocate of.

Meanwhile, the GOP candidates have sought either to dilute the Dodd-Frank rules by gutting some of its key provisions regulating derivatives or to outright repeal it. Still, going into the primaries — and perhaps in search of appeasing the Tea Party and Trumpian faction of their constituency — even some of the Republicans came to embrace some of the anti-Big Bank rhetoric.

And as for the practice of corporate stock buybacks, while both Sanders and Clinton have the issue on their radars, Republicans so far have failed to address it.

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Paul Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

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There’s a lot of profoundly important topics, such as International Trade and Cyber-security, that this piece has’t touched on at all. So it is a sampling — not a particularly representative one at that — of a number of global issues much more so than a complete report on the Earth’s possible paths toward misery or salvage.

The Earth tends not to equivocate along the ruts of partisanship. That said, the vast majority of GOP candidates’ positions are for the most part severely at odds with the notion of a peaceful and sustainable future for the Earth. And while the Democrats have “systemically” performed better from a global perspective for a number of decades now, what’s really decisive from a perspective of global affairs is the particular strand of philosophy theirs views fall under: progressive, interventionist, free-trader, etc.

That’s why despite a few shortcomings, insofar as he manages to pick highly qualified advisers and staff members, Sanders seems to fit the bill the most comfortably to become the U.S. Presidential Candidate of the Earth.

However, in order to be able to vote for a particular person at the general election, the candidate first needs to win the primaries to earn the nomination of his or her party.

So my dear American friend! That’s why I implore you to stay dry, drive safe, and show up at your state Democratic primary to cast your vote for Bernie Sanders.

 
 

Earth’s Endorsement for U.S. President

Picking the best U.S. presidential candidate from a markedly global perspective.

Being a spectator from over the other shore of the Atlantic to all the antics that the U.S. Presidential campaign tends to bring out of an uncomfortably large portion of the candidates is admittedly an entertaining way of killing some time. Come Iowa tomorrow though, the mood is about to get more tense and solemn as events to be unfolding from there on are likely to bear primary importance with far-reaching implications for both the parties and the country.

However, the very moment we fully grasp the stakes that this whole show entails, quickly evaporates what little fun is left to make generous accommodation for despondence. After all, Americans are about to elect one of these people to be President of the Earth.

President of the Earth!? Isn’t it way too pompous and arrogant to say that?

Oh, please. Just lean back and let a couple of facts give you a taste.

First up, let’s have a peak at the U.S. military spending. Specifically, note that, according to the estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), how the American budget of $610 billion exceeds the $600.6 billion combined budget of the next seven largest spenders China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India, and Germany. Adding to the sway the U.S. holds over the World, there’s also a certain “network effect” that comes into play through the cooperation between its allies both via formal treaties such as NATO and other multilateral arrangements.

As for the influence the U.S. has on the global economy, this is admittedly an area where a clear-cut appraisal is even less of a possibility. Still, much like a gag reflex, at the mere utterance of the term “global economy” comes the Great Recession of 2008 springing into mind. Among a myriad interconnected causes are there an inadequate regulation of non-depository financial institutions, faulty U.S. government house policies, and a pervasive presence of lax lending standards that eventually gave rise to high household debts and a major real-estate bubble. Well-documented are the major global ripples that the burst of the U.S. mortgage bubble triggered.

On the monetary front, the recent decision by the FED to raise interest rates with the reactions it elicited provides only the latest hint of how dramatic an influence the U.S. has on the entirety of World finance.

The Earth Flag
“The Earth Flag” from Futurama

Alright we can probably acquiesce to the U.S. President being the principal player of the World. But again: President of the Earth?

That’s right, not the World but the Earth. “World” really is just a term we have grown a penchant for casually throwing around to mainly address catastrophic global events and occasionally inspiring stories that involve Humans* living around the Globe, as well as to shield ourselves from the murkiness and intricacies of reality. Indeed, this frame of thinking had been appropriate for tens of thousands of years when Humans sticked to massacring only each other for the crime of belonging to different tribes, religions, countries, ethnicities, and so on.

“But hey, we’ve long since passed the epoch of this sort of exclusivity!,” so argue rightfully the fish, bees, rain forest trees, and let’s just not ignore the elephant in the room: polar bears. Especially them. Come on, they’re not overweight Michael(s?) Phelps(es) dressed in furry white coats to make them have to swim so much for the nearest slab. Give them a break already!

*The category technically includes people with sparse Internet connection as well as those with limited electricity thanks to a grenade launcher attack only minutes before.

 

**

 

Driven by this mindset, let’s have a closer look at the current crop of U.S. Presidential candidates. As a basis for comparison, we are going to make use of the recent New York Times article “Where the Candidates Stand on 2016’s Biggest Issues,” specifically the issues among them that bear the most on global affairs.

For the purpose of grading the candidates, let’s get inspiration from the notion “Worldsuck” from John and Hank Green. In each category, every candidate can earn up to a given number of teardrops, where the maximum number is doled out for the one who takes a position with the most devastating global consequences. Hence, a higher sum total of teardrops forebodes more Worldsuck making the objective to be “staying dry.” Despite all its importance, Worldsuck happens to be a somewhat nebulous concept. Expect scientific rigour accordingly.

Teardrops
The “teardrop” rating system

Specifically, we’re assessing the most influential candidates issue-by-issue with highlighting their more outlying positions. The candidates are Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul from the GOP as well as Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders from the Democrats.

Due to the large number of candidates, only those earning less teardrops than the most possible are depicted in each topic.

Now, let the winnowing begin.

Climate Change

Not only is there a scientific consensus with respect to the reality of Climate Change, but also as the recent conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference showed, all participating 195 countries signed a formal agreement putting on the record their recognition of the issue’s urgency. However, even this sketchy and non-binding deal (individual governments are still to enact it) would prove elusive for the U.S. The current political climate impelled the U.S. delegates to dilute the terms of the agreement so as to stop short of qualifying as a treaty. This technical manoeuvre is to bypass the need of earning congressional approval and make executive action suffice instead.

None of the GOP candidates currently in contention call for action on Climate Change with Bush holding the “most progressive” stance that is to acknowledge at least the reality of it. Marking a nadir of sorts came Ben Carson tweeting a “joint statement” on the recent incident of the Iranian navy taking U.S. marine troops into custody as well as his refusal to accept the reality of Climate Change that “While President Obama is complaining about global warming 10 of our American sailors are held in Iranian custody.” So much for supple prioritization.

The Pentagon considers Climate Change to be an especially grave threat to national security stating that due to the rise in sea level, the mass disappearance of many of the densely populated coastal cities and communities around the World might spark waves of climate refugees and thus a global turmoil; all that exacerbated by food shortages due to the increase of unpredictable and extreme weather events. In light of this, the party that is so eager to claim the mantle of the heroic protector of its citizens chooses strangely to miss out on a chance of a lifetime to live up to its credo.

Providing a sharp contrast are the Democrats, all of whom accept the reality of a man-made Climate Change as well as the urgency of taking action on the issue. Singnalling a willingness to go one step further than the others is Sanders who is the only candidate calling for action to ban fracking.

Utter
Disaster
Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

**

 

Let’s talk Foreign Policy. All articles on a subject matter this diverse, complex, and afflictive are destined to be generalizing, reductive, and occasionally fatalistic. Given that, let’s surrender any aspiration of being representative here and go pick only two topics to give us a taste: the situation in Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Syria

What all the presidential candidates and regional actors agree on is the importance of destroying ISIL. That also marks the point where the agreement ends leaving further questions up for contentious debate. Pressing though might be the issue of defeating ISIL in the short run, not for a second should we take our eyes off the longer-term goals — establishing political stability, properly redressing humanitarian grievances, and rebuilding the conditions that allow for civilians to return home and pursue a normal life. A comprehensive agreement on a political solution in Syria should provide the framework toward these ends through accountability and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all the actors. Sadly though, the current turmoil seems to suck most of the oxygen away from discussions of such longer-term goals.

Instrumental to reaching all this, the main approaches seem to be supporting moderate Sunni rebels, pursuing a drone campaign, implementing a No-fly zone, deploying boots on the ground, and negotiating a political solution. These approaches might be combined along various parameters.

Strategy #1   :   Moderate Sunni rebels

Recent news concerning the sudden demise of Mr. Zahran Alloush, leader of the moderate rebel group Army of Islam, should serve as a sobering recognition of the urgency of settling on a viable policy for Syria and Iraq. Efforts of that ilk have proven especially futile to which only as an admission came Pentagon officials’ announcement of an “operational pause” in the training program which at one point, during September 2015, had as many as “four or five” U.S.-backed moderate rebels fighting in Syria. And not only that, but military aid has the nasty tendency of often falling into the hands of extremist groups.

Calling for the arming and aiding of that half a dozen moderate Sunni rebels are Clinton, Bush, Rubio, whereas those who are calling against it include Sanders, Paul, Cruz, and — in case coke-fuelled bluster qualifies as an argument — Trump.

Strategy #2   :   Drone campaign

The 2003 invasion of Iraq rendered “Boots on the Ground” almost a taboo leaving the U.S. Government with drones as the most devastating weapon its voting citizens can still tolerate politically. After all, a drone strike at a wedding in a culturally different country far-away tends not to put an army of disabled veterans with severe cases of PTSD on U.S. streets for people to bump into. And because of this removedness, even major revelations become lost amidst the deluge of more trivial domestic news and the daily digest of mass shootings.

Adding to the problem is a wide spectrum of experts agreeing that drones are very likely to be counterproductive. Taking these into account, a reliance on drone strikes seems more of a short term hack (an especially brutal one at that) rather than the legitimate part of any long-term solution.

All of the likely candidates support drone strikes to varying extent or at least they didn’t declare their explicit opposition to it.

Strategy #3   :   No-fly zone

The enforcement of a No-fly zone should stand on clearly defined terms, with major actors in agreement with one another, so as to prevent interference and minimize the risk of possible incidents. In recognition of the conspicuous lack of conditions for any of these, President Obama so far has wisely resisted implementing a No-fly zone over parts of Syria. While the protection of Syrian civilians on the ground surely is a laudable aim, the question in such an intricate and high-stakes situation has got to be asked: “At what price exactly?”

Clinton made a point in this vein when she told at a debate in New Hampshire, one of the first primary states, that “I am advocating the no-fly zone both because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians.” She was quick to finish her train of thought by adding “I’m also advocating it because I think it gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia.”

In reality though, not only would such an approach severely jeopardize a fragile situation that has already been strained by incidents like the shootdown of the Russian fighter plane by the Turkish air force (a NATO member no less), but it would also flout international cooperation and promote instead hegemonic aspirations in the region. More important still perhaps is that gaining leverage in such a way might be more effective against an actor that is more rational than the one Russia currently is. Two irrational actors might find themselves caught in a Chicken Game with a tragic conclusion. Now is not the time for America to lose its marbles.

No-fly zone is a policy to which Clinton as well as all the GOP candidates — with the sole exception of Sen. Paul — happen to have proudly subscribed. The other candidate advocating against the approach is Sanders while Trump is sitting on the fence on this one.

Strategy #4   :   Boots on the ground

In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama reiterated his opposition to deploying ground troops in Syria and Iraq in order to fight ISIL: “That’s what groups like ISIL want. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield,” he argued. “ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq, but they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops and draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits.”

What the President seems to have implied here though is only a refusal of unilateral action rather than a blanket dismissal of using ground troops. Indeed, six days after the Paris attacks, Clinton gave a comprehensive anti-terrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations where she voiced some criticism of the Obama administration for making a slow progress on deploying special ground forces. As a fine print, for a Democrat going into the Primaries on the heels of a widely popular incumbent, even milder criticism takes on a particular significance. (Fine! Just make sure to avoid mission creep by heeding the example of President John F. Kennedy sending “only a few” military advisers to Vietnam.)

On this one, the GOP candidates happen to mark both extremes of the spectrum. On the one hand there is the all-too familiar holler coming from the Neocon hawks who seem reinvigorated in their thirst for another all-out ground invasion, while on the other hand, there is the quasi-isolationism of Paul.

Calling for a U.S. ground invasion, are Bush, Rubio, and (if somewhat vaguely) Trump, while opposing it are Cruz, Paul, and all the Democratic candidates.

Strategy #5   :   Political solution

However ripe a nominee Bashar-al Assad might be for the distinction of ‘War Criminal,’ simultaneously attacking the Syrian Army and ISIL (another Neocon tidbit) seems to be an astonishingly bad idea. What it would do is generate a power vacuum, something various regional actors have long been craving to fill in and among whom ISIL might be only the latest one. Brutally caught in the midst of all this are the desperate masses of civilians who have already suffered well beyond Western comprehension.

Any political solution must acknowledge and build upon this fact. In fact, the EU has been divided over this issue whose most immediate concerns include the waves of refugees that the ongoing conflict keeps generating; something a weakened Assad who still somehow finds a way to cling on to power might woefully protract.

Thus far, a political solution has proven elusive. A binding international agreement on a process toward a new constitution and elections with UN oversight in Syria had been the goal of the Vienna talks which hit a roadblock over the question regarding Assad’s future. The chief problem seems to be that “The fundamental dynamic of the Assad regime, since it took power in the 1970s, has been minority rule: the Alawites, at times supported by other religious minorities such as Druze and Christians, rule over the country’s Sunni majority. That dynamic was never stable, and it was maybe only a matter of time until it collapsed, violently or not.”

Besides their positions on a No-fly zone, probably this is the most contentious one between Clinton and Sanders. In their Dec 19 debate, Sanders emphasized the priority of dealing with ISIL first and only after that with Assad. And although Clinton started touting the same logic, unless there is indeed an international agreement on a political solution, it remains somewhat harder to picture her following through with it compared to her peers. Until then, Sanders’ position (even if a little vague) remains the more promising one by explicitly cutting the risk of sparking an conflict with Russia and Iran.

As a stark contrast to the Democrats, most of the GOP candidates continue to maintain their general abstinence from contemplating a diplomatic solution, extolling instead their preference for a military action. It seems as though speaking about matters such as diplomacy and complexity doesn’t get the testosterone flowing quite like a fourth grader’s bombasts and macho swagger does.

Syria wrapup

Syria is enmeshed in a very complex situation with key actors pushing for their own agenda (Assad, the Sunni majority, the Kurds, the U.S., the EU, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia) leaving no room for easy answers beyond the destruction of ISIL. That’s exactly what the Democrats — to varying degrees — seem to have realized in that their positions recognize more of the nuances and intricacies that engulf the topic and the region making them more inclined to seek a diplomatic solution.

Often, there’s a sweet spot between action and inaction. While Republicans tend to pushing for a full-on Neocon agenda of military aggression, libertarians like Paul usually go a half to err on the side of inaction. However appealing an isolationist stance might be to moderate voters (with a possible trans-partisan reach) after the Bush era, no response at all probably would not be the right policy either. History far too often has shown us that sitting on our hands while there’s an ongoing conflict somewhere with strong genocidal undertones ultimately becomes humanity’s collective failure as well as an erosion to the authenticity of our international institutions which themselves are supposed to be principal brokers of peace.

On the action-inaction spectrum, Clinton assumes a somewhat peculiar position. While the former Secretary of State rejects the proposition of all-out ground invasion, she seems more inclined than her peers on the Democratic side to utilize a wider array of military tools. A recent GOP debate only highlighted this where “Bush — like the others — failed to articulate a vision for change in the fight against ISIS that was fundamentally different than what Clinton is calling for.” Conservative historian Robert Kagan went so far as to label Clinton’s foreign policy with the ‘N-word’ stating that “it’s something that might have been called ‘Neocon,’ but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that... they are going to call it something else.”

Meanwhile, Sanders seems to be the candidate with the most risk-controlled position in the middle. This is notwithstanding his biggest shortcoming that is a somewhat spotty and vague grasp of foreign policy in general. Also when you add the outlying position of Trump and (to a lesser extent) Cruz, it becomes apparent that a real divide lies not between the two parties so much as it does inside them: between the flanks of establishment and non-establishment.

Utter
Disaster
Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

**

 

Iran

The event that has recently generated the most angst in the media was an incident wherein Iranian forces took 10 U.S. sailors into custody after they accidentally crossed into Iranian territorial waters. For a reassuring conclusion, Iran released them unharmed with all their gears intact in a mere 16 hours. But even more reassuring was the fact that messages had been passing directly between Washington and Tehran without intermediaries for the first time since decades.

The story fits snugly in the narrative of the historic opportunity that is now between the two countries to ameliorate their long-standing enmity. Another piece of news to that effect was the prisoner swap that saw the release of 4 U.S. citizens, among them Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

Casting some shadow on it however is Iran’s latest missile test for which the U.S. doled out a new round of sanctions. Many share the trepidation of Shane Bauer (a journalist freed from an Iranian prison himself back in 2011) according to whom

“It’s too soon to say whether the era of Iranian hostage taking is over. The unjust imprisonment of innocent people will always be Iran’s responsibility, and it’s up to its government to end it. But we don’t need to make things worse. Right after these four Americans flew out of Iran, the Obama administration announced it would be applying new sanctions on Iran—the same sanctions Clinton had called for. It had been planning to do this, it turns out, for some time, something the former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic nominee was likely aware of. To be sure, these sanctions, which target just a few individuals and small companies that send crucial technologies to Iran, are nothing like the ones that were just lifted. The old ones cost Iran $30 million a day, draining its economy and weighing on the lives of regular Iranians, many of whom oppose their government. But these sanctions send the wrong signal.”

Especially that these kinds of signals might boost hard-liners’ odds of getting elected now that Iran is looking to hold elections next month.

Especially now that the U.S. is in election fever pitch with most the GOP candidates having already signed a carte blanche (or rather “carte noire”) of continued hostility toward Iran.

And especially now when a follow-through on the Nuclear Deal is still up in the air.

Speaking of which: Despite the sustained hysteria from the conservative punditry, the deal never really had a viable alternative. The most substantive arguments against the deal remains a windfall of some $100 billion due to the thawing of Iranian frozen assets. The concern is that much of it would go to funding proxies like Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and to prop up the Assad regime (all the more reason to concentrate solely on ISIL for now). Mollifying this argument is that European sanctions toward Iran have been on the outs anyway.

The the strongest part of the deal in legal terms perhaps is the innovative sanctions regime that obligates Iran to grant admission of the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to their facilities at any time requested. As soon as Iran blocks their admission or is found to have stopped upholding its end of the deal in any other way, sanctions automatically snap back. Hence the tagline of the Obama administration: “Not trust but verification.”

As Iran was getting on the precipice of becoming nuclear, we should rejoice in not having to wait and see for ourselves whether or not it delivers on its promise to “wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.” That’s just simply not among the sorts of risks we should tolerate being put up with. But perhaps the single biggest achievement of the deal is that it helps obviate a nuclear arms race in the region. Once Iran got its hand on a bomb, the Saudis would very likely follow suit. The recent hostility sparked by the execution of a prominent Shia cleric by the Saudi government and the ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran afterwards only adds further emphasis to this point. Looking from this angle, what the cash windfalls does in the worst case is that it shortchanges a single major threat (the bomb) to several smaller ones (the arming of proxies).

Another threat of a nuclear Iran is that it could provide a strong incentive for the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel to carry out a preventive strike. Waiting with an eager readiness on the sideline is the Republican establishment with all of its candidates staunchly defiant of the nuclear deal and supportive of a hardline position instead. This atmosphere has a particularly troubling undertone to it: Is ‘regime change’ about to come back from the graveyard of miserably failed policies?

The U.S. has a well-documented inclination for regime change in the region and elsewhere, yet it’s not just the bulk of the GOP that acts as a source of apprehension. Despite all the bluster, a few GOP candidates — among them Paul, Bush, and Trump — pledged not to “tear up the deal” leaving Cruz and Rubio in the hard-liner camp.

Clinton never fully embraced Obama’s adage of “Not trust but verification,” taking it instead one step further to make it “Distrust and Verify.” The former Secretary’s reluctant support for the nuclear deal, in slight opposition to a president who’s widely popular among her own constituency just as she is about to launch her presidential campaign carries a particular weight. In addition to it, if given the opportunity, besides the GOP there are also Senate Democrats (among them Senators Benjamin L. Cardin, Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez, and Joe Manchin III) with whom Clinton could work on switching to a harder line on Iran. At the first Democratic debate on October 15 2015, she even made a punchline out of her enmity toward Iran by declaring “the Iranians” as one of the enemies she is most proud of having.

Providing an unusual contrast in traditional U.S. politics, Sanders made an important gesture of publicly reckoning with the controversy of the CIA-led military coup against the secular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Although his own handicap still remains a limited experience on foreign policy (especially when compared to Clinton’s), he indicated a willingness to soften the U.S. foreign policy approach working with traditional foes like Russia in resolving international situations.

Utter
Disaster
Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

**

 

Refugee Crisis

The burning issue of the refugee crisis of course is intimately related to U.S. foreign policy. It is only prudent to start off by applauding the heroic efforts of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon in ameliorating the crisis by accepting a disproportionate number of refugees. And while Germany’s inspiring commitment to accept 800,000 refugees, the EU as a political organization has — for the most part — failed us for not yet having implemented a fair and balanced distribution of refugees across its member states. Much as Europe bears a formidable amount of the culpability for a substandard management of the situation, it still pales in comparison to the share the U.S. is entitled to claim with official plans contemplating the acceptance of some 10,000 to 30,000 refugees.

The obvious moral imperatives and stipulations by international law aside and, there are actually several incentives for the U.S. to take an active role in handling the crisis. Admitting refugees would make for a smart long-term strategy — albeit with short-term expenses — by providing a golden opportunity to give a first-hand experience of a viable secular alternative as opposed to theocratic aspirations. This could be one prong of a complex counter-terrorism strategy as it might the U.S. less of a target of religious extremism. All the while, the U.S. could put some pressure on the Saudis and other Gulf States to take their share of handling the crisis (so far they have refused to take in any refugees). This would help distribute the effort more equally, and — as a result — temper the emergence of long-time intimate partners anti-Muslim sentiments and far-right extremism (with a serious crush on Russia) in Europe.

Once again, the spectrum of Republican positions has been a slightly qualified flat-out refusal of admitting refugees. The only compromise has been to allow only Christian refugees (Bush, Cruz). Not only does this profoundly distasteful idea violate the Constitution at the heart which lies freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, but it would also most likely be ridiculously impractical. Naturally, none of this makes it any less tasty of a red meat to their constituency.

Drawing a sharp contrast are the Democratic candidates, all of whom have been calling for admitting Syrian refugees irrespective of their religion. Though Martin O’Malley has been the first to assume the most progressive position thus far by proposing to take in some 65,000 refugees, fellow Democrats were quick to follow suit. Nonetheless this figure still lags far behind Germany’s commitment, especially for a country four times the population. The contrast only sharpens when we account for one of the most pungent moral points according to which “it could also be argued that Western nations have both a legal and moral responsibility to provide for those who are fleeing countries that their actions (and omissions) have destabilized, such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Utter
Disaster
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Trump Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Paul Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

**

 

Finally, a few thoughts on the financial system and regulations.

Global Finance

The recent wither of the Chinese stock markets reignited a general anxiety about the state of the global markets the reasoning of which is rooted deeply in its vast, intricate nature, and highly oblique connectedness. Quickly followed Paul Krugman’s soothing argument according to which, ugly as though it might look, the U.S. with most of the World has structurally less of an exposure to China to make it a full-blown global threat. Awfully well-documented became the fact that the same doesn’t hold for the U.S. stock market. According to Mr. Krugman,

“One reason America’s subprime crisis turned global in 2008 was that foreigners in general, and European banks in particular, turned out to be badly exposed to losses on U.S. securities. But China has capital controls — that is, it isn’t very open to foreign investors — so there’s very little direct spillover from plunging stocks or even domestic debt defaults.”

However as Mr. Krugman hastens to comfort us in our distress, he admits it in the same breath that he isn’t quite as relaxed about his own analysis he feels he should be on the grounds of rationality. What probably qualifies his own calm is a deep understanding of how much the quirks of the human psyche with its myriad cognitive biases play into decision-making.

Consider now a scenario wherein human psychology meets with lax regulations and a set of incentives that prefer short-term gains over longer-term ones. Now give the combo sufficient amount of time, and chances are that ultimately something nasty ends up emerging from it. In fact when human psychology gets thrown into the mix, even small-scale straightforward situations, such as the Prisonner’s dilemma, come to baffle us. Apply it to a system that’s complex in its own right and the picture gets even more counter-intuitive and confusing.

At this point, one might jump in to ask “If it’s difficult enough to grasp the quirks of human psychology, why further aggravate the situation with systemic deficiencies?,” and she would be dead on.

The Big Bank Theory

Since one of the most calamitous sort of events happens to be the popping of a market bubble (a lot less fun than it felt typing), a principal goal of lawmakers and regulators should be the maintenance of conditions that make it harder for them to emerge. When an economy structurally relies too heavily on companies that hold significant amounts of systemically overvalued assets, chances increase that a crisis occurs that calls for a costly bailout in order to avert a financial meltdown. This sort of a “blackmailing potential” is what has earned such companies the infamous title of too big to fail, as well as it gives them an unfair edge of lower insurance rates and cheaper credit over their smaller competitors. After a number of major legislative actions, perhaps most prominently Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, the major indicators suggest that by now the economy has largely recuperated.

However at the corporate level there remains a number of practices that leave the door open for abusive use, among them recently coming into the spotlight is the overuse of stock buybacks. This occurs when corporations put a disproportionately large share of their revenue not into wages and innovation but rather to beef up their equities. Fear has it that at the expense of the real economy, buybacks inflate stock prices increasing causing a systemic overvaluation. The perks of the status “too big to fail” coupled with corporate practices akin to stock buybacks might lead to a myopic over-admission of risk where the former serves as incentive and the latter produces the instrument for it. Such a constellation seems to increase the odds of bubbles to re-emerge.

Politics and policies

Since the 2008 crisis, certain ‘fringier’ segments of politics has adopted the agenda of “Breaking up the big banks.” Populist and even angry though it may sound, there’s more than a grain of rationale to it as it seeks to incentivize a more responsible investorial behavior: Take upon your own risk. A reduced size would curb their “blackmailing potential” rendering them less speculative as from then on, they would have to operate under the full weight of the prospect of an actual default.

This risk-curbing was one of the objectives the Dodd-Frank legislation had in mind, nonetheless without the actual breaking-up of any bank. Clinton has been supportive of Dodd-Frank even receiving advices from one of its principal authors. Nonetheless, she remains strongly disapproving of any plan to break up big financial institutions.

From time to time however, raising concern is there news surfacing about the presence of certain loopholes still left in Dodd-Frank. In recognition of the fact that the overwhelming complexity of the Dodd-Frank act increases the possibility for loopholes Sanders — along with fellow progressive stalwart Sen. Elizabeth Warren — has been calling for a more sweeping financial reform built on a simpler code. Apart from limiting their clout (aka. “breaking them up”), he prefers reinstating a modernized version of the Glass-Steagall Act from 1933 (a legislative response to the Great Depression strictly separating investment and commercial banking), an approach Nobel-laureate Joseph Stiglitz has been a vocal advocate of.

Meanwhile, the GOP candidates have sought either to dilute the Dodd-Frank rules by gutting some of its key provisions regulating derivatives or to outright repeal it. Still, going into the primaries — and perhaps in search of appeasing the Tea Party and Trumpian faction of their constituency — even some of the Republicans came to embrace some of the anti-Big Bank rhetoric.

And as for the practice of corporate stock buybacks, while both Sanders and Clinton have the issue on their radars, Republicans so far have failed to address it.

Utter
Disaster
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Paul Teardrops
Bush Teardrops
Rubio Teardrops
Cruz Teardrops
Trump Teardrops
Clinton Teardrops
Sanders Teardrops

 

**

 

There’s a lot of profoundly important topics, such as International Trade and Cyber-security, that this piece has’t touched on at all. So it is a sampling — not a particularly representative one at that — of a number of global issues much more so than a complete report on the Earth’s possible paths toward misery or salvage.

The Earth tends not to equivocate along the ruts of partisanship. That said, the vast majority of GOP candidates’ positions are for the most part severely at odds with the notion of a peaceful and sustainable future for the Earth. And while the Democrats have “systemically” performed better from a global perspective for a number of decades now, what’s really decisive from a perspective of global affairs is the particular strand of philosophy theirs views fall under: progressive, interventionist, free-trader, etc.

That’s why despite a few shortcomings, insofar as he manages to pick highly qualified advisers and staff members, Sanders seems to fit the bill the most comfortably to become the U.S. Presidential Candidate of the Earth.

However, in order to be able to vote for a particular person at the general election, the candidate first needs to win the primaries to earn the nomination of his or her party.

So my dear American friend! That’s why I implore you to stay dry, drive safe, and show up at your state Democratic primary to cast your vote for Bernie Sanders.