Monday, August 8, 2016

August 8, 2016 - Obama Assassination Playbook Released, and Other Stories

Assassination 'Playbook' of President Obama Released
In response to lawsuits from the ACLU, the Obama Administration recently released a redacted version of the document that now governs US drone assassinations. Despite the now farcical pledge of the Obama Administration to be the most transparent administration ever, they fought to keep the entire document secret. Fortunately they failed, resulting in the recent release.

What it revealed, however, is not altogether groundbreaking. Basically, there is a relatively detailed process for nominating targets / victims and many meetings are held with the Pentagon or CIA and the National Security Council staff that advises Obama directly. It's mildly interesting to note that they use the same meaningless language in their internal guidance as they do in speeches made to assuage public concerns--for example, the idea that there must be "near certainty" that civilians won't be harmed when making a strike. This language is meaningless because, of course, civilians are harmed all the time.

Also worth noting is that the rules impose essentially no limitations on who may be targeted. It's not just ISIS or Al-Qaeda and associated forces, which would be rather broad to start with, but virtually anyone deemed to be sufficiently terrorist-y. This is not surprising given the actual results of the policy. But it is a stark reminder that the Obama Administration has wholeheartedly embraced, and expanded, the already vast war-making powers exercised by President Bush.

Most important of all, it must be remembered that while there may be a process guiding the arbitrary life-and-death assassinations choices of the President, this is not a substitute for due process. The US currently claims it is legitimate to assassinate anyone in the world, so long as their internal and opaque decision-making process determines it is appropriate. Meanwhile, the target may have no idea they are being targeted and has no way to challenge the secret evidence and accusations against them. No American would tolerate another country claiming that authority over American citizens, and we should not tolerate that our government asserts that authority with respect to the rest of the world.

Trump Buries the Hatchet with Paul Ryan and John McCain
In a highly anticipated speech last Friday--well, anticipated by pundits and probably no one else--Donald Trump gave a speech in Wisconsin on Friday in which he endorsed House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain in their reelection campaigns. Both Ryan and McCain have been critical of Trump recently, and the move appears to be an oddly conventional step for the Trump campaign. The goal seems to be to move the media beyond the narrative of a divided GOP, and on to some new scandal. He will likely prove successful in this.

Unfortunately, the scandal Trump's been focusing on recently is the allegedly sketchy "ransom payment" to Iran, which was not a ransom payment and was openly reported at the time it occurred by the Obama Administration. The payment was a settlement related to money previously confiscated by the US, and it was part of the only significant positive contribution that President Obama has made in the realm of foreign policy, namely the Iran nuclear deal. Thus, it is especially unfortunate (and stupid) that Trump insists on attacking this subject as loud as any other.

The US Releases Great Jobs Numbers, Changes Nothing
Last Friday, the market received word of the all-important nonfarm payrolls report for July--for the uninitiated, this is the report that politicians are citing when they erroneously take credit for all jobs created in the economy.

Anyway, the report came in above expectations, at 255,000 jobs for the month. The market was excited, reaching new highs. However, the report should be greeted with a grain of salt, as it comes amid almost uniformly bad data on every other metric. We'll elaborate further on this theme tomorrow, but for now, the key takeaway is that it changes nothing.

The Democrats will point to it as further evidence the economy is fine (probably incorrectly), while Trump continues to insist otherwise. Meanwhile, there will be much speculation that the Federal Reserve will now finally feel secure enough to raise interest rates, based on signs of a stronger economy. This is nonsense.

Whatever the data show, the Fed is unlikely to risk raising rates and throwing the market into turmoil just before the election--particularly since that development would directly benefit Donald Trump.

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