Forget left and right. This is what will determine the midterms.

And the most powerful faceoff of all may be “reform” vs. “corruption.”

.. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait was one of the first journalists to suggest how important corruption could be during this year’s campaign. Writing in April, Chait argued that it “should take very little work” for Democratic candidates “to stitch all the administration’s misdeeds together into a tale of unchecked greed.”

.. The advantages of the corruption issue are

(1) “corrupt” really is the right word to describe the Trump administration;

(2) a concern over corruption transcends philosophical dispositions; and

(3) the failure to “drain the swamp” is one of President Trump’s most obvious broken promises. Instead, Trump has turned the swamp into an immense toxic-waste dump.

.. Alas, we now know that basic expectations — from the release of tax returns by presidential candidates, to the avoidance of blatant conflicts of interest — must be codified. Scandals are like that: They teach us where existing laws fall short.

.. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced a resolution outlining a broad agenda that has been co-sponsored by 163 House Democrats.

.. They would start by restoring the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013; providing for nationwide automatic voter registration; ending purges that illegitimately disenfranchise many citizens; and outlawing gerrymandering by requiring states to establish cross-party commissions to draw district lines.

..  the package would codify ethics expectations of public officials — including presidents. To fight foreign meddling, it calls for “real-time transparency of political advertisements on all advertising platforms,” an ideachampioned by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

I Think I’m Going to Kathmandu, Say the Chinese

If things go as planned, one day soon Chinese trains will pull into Kathmandu, Nepal, on a new railroad built to lessen the landlocked Himalayan country’s dependence on India.

.. It’s time to acknowledge that in raw economic terms China has comprehensively outpaced India. If winning regional influence depends on building ports and railroads abroad, or dazzling visitors with skyscrapers and broad boulevards at home, then India’s prospects look bleak.

Compared with China, however, India remains a bastion of free speech, minority rights and judicial independence. New Delhi ought to play to these traditional strengths by deepening them.

..  On Monday, China blocked HBO.com after comedian John Oliver ran a segment that discussed Mr. Xi’s alleged touchiness about his purported resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.

..  it wasn’t always a certainty that China would pull ahead. According to the World Bank, as recently as 1990 India’s per capita income ($364) was higher than China’s ($318). Paradoxically, China’s communists unleashed market forces more effectively than their democratically elected counterparts in India.

.. Four years ago, Mr. Modi looked set to enact the sweeping reforms India needs to eradicate poverty and catch up with China. But despite a few successes, such as a national goods and services tax and a bankruptcy law that makes it easier to exit a failed business, the Indian prime minister disappointed. He more resembles his lackluster socialist predecessors than a market-friendly East Asian leader.

.. India’s archaic labor laws suppress job growth by making it extremely hard to fire workers during a downturn.

.. With a per capita income of $8,100, the average Chinese is nearly five times as rich as the average Indian. The gap has widened over the past 10 years.

..  48 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings are in China. None are in India.

.. the ruling Bharatiya has earned a reputation for intimidating reporters with massive lawsuits, pressuring media barons to sack unfriendly editors, and using lap-dog television channels and a vicious troll army to smear political opponents.

.. India’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but Mr. Modi often remains distressingly silent when Hindu mobs lynch innocent Muslims on suspicion of killing a cow.
..  But the government has taken to stalling the appointment of senior judges it does not approve of, raising fears that it will chip away at judicial autonomy.

 

Nationalism Will Go Bankrupt

the supposed rebellion of “common people” against elites has not been much in evidence. Billionaires have taken over US politics under President Donald Trump; unelected professors run the “populist” Italian government; and all over the world, taxes have been slashed on the ever-rising incomes of financiers, technologists, and corporate managers.

.. Meanwhile, ordinary workers have resigned themselves to the reality that high-quality housing, education, and even health care are hopelessly beyond their reach.

.. What, then, explains the sudden dominance of nationalism? There is not much positively patriotic about the new nationalism in Italy, Britain, or even the US. Instead, the upsurge of national feeling seems largely a xenophobic phenomenon, as famously defined by the Czech-American sociologist Karl Deutsch: “A nation is a group of people linked together by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors.”

  • .. Hard times –
  • low wages,
  • inequality,
  • regional deprivation, and
  • post-crisis austerity

– provoke a hunt for scapegoats, and foreigners are always a tempting target.

.. There is nothing patriotic about Trump’s belligerence against Mexican immigrants and Canadian imports, or the nativist policies of the new Italian government, or Theresa May’s most famous statement after becoming UK Prime Minister: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”

.. The xenophobic effort to blame economic hardship on foreigners is doomed to failure.

.. Consider the post-crisis effort to divert popular anger about the  onto “greedy bankers.” This ultimately failed, in part because bankers have huge resources to defend themselves, which foreigners generally do not.

.. banker-bashing failed to assuage public anger mainly because attacking finance did nothing to boost wages, diminish inequality, or reverse social neglect. The same will be true of the current attacks on foreign influence, whether through immigration or trade.

.. European issues have nothing to do with the genuine political grievances that motivated a large part of the “Leave” vote. Instead, the Brexit negotiations will now dominate and distract British politics for many years, or even decades. And Britain’s nationalist confrontation with the rest of Europe will offer politicians of all parties endless excuses for failing to improve everyday life.

..  scapegoating foreign influences, whether through trade or immigration, will do nothing to lift living standards or address the sources of political discontent.

.. Successive Italian governments since the financial crisis have gradually laid the foundations for pension, labor market, and banking reforms. These changes have created the conditions for economic recovery .. but they have been politically unpopular and are now being denounced as symbols of elitist foreign oppression.

.. If the new government abandons all three reform projects, Italians can also abandon hope of economic recovery, perhaps for another decade.

.. Trump thinks his measures against imports from China, Germany, and Canada will hurt these trading partners and create American jobs. This might have been true when the US economy was suffering weak growth and deflation. But in a world of strong demand and rising inflation, German and Chinese exporters will find new markets for their products, whereas US manufacturers will struggle to replace foreign suppliers.

.. tariffs will act as a tax on American consumers, through higher prices, and on American workers, businesses, and homeowners, through rising interest rates.

 

In Diplomacy, Trump Is the Anti-Reagan

another take is that it’s the Plaza Redux, meaning the 1988 real estate debacle in which Trump hastily purchased New York’s Plaza Hotel because it looked like an irresistible trophy, only to be forced to sell it at a loss a few years later as part of a brutal debt restructuring.

.. “Like Reagan, he seems to sense that the nuclear technicalities matter less than the political relationship.”

.. First, Trump isn’t Reagan.

  • Reagan generally acted in concert with allies. Trump brazenly acts against them.
  • Reagan’s negotiation method: “Trust but verify.” Trump’s self-declared method: “My touch, my feel.”
  • Reagan refused to give in to Soviet demands that he abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative. Trump surrendered immediately to Pyongyang’s long-held insistence that the U.S. suspend military exercises with South Korea while getting nothing in return.
  • Reagan’s aim was to topple Communist Party rule in Moscow. Trump’s is to preserve it in Pyongyang.

Second, Kim isn’t Gorbachev.

  • Gorbachev was born into a family that suffered acutely the horrors of Stalinism. Kim was born into a family that starved its own people.
  • Gorbachev rose through the ranks as a technocrat with no background in the regime’s security apparatus. Kim consolidated his rule by murdering his uncle, half brother and various ministers, among other unfortunates.
  • Gorbachev came to office intent on easing political repression at home and defusing tensions with the West. Kim spent his first six years doing precisely the opposite.