But Trump Hires The Best People

Either he’s powerful, or he’s gullible. Either he’s a great manager, or a bad one. He cannot be both.

For what it’s worth, Trump doesn’t appear to regret his hiring choices, but his cult base seems to think he’s being played.

Yet, if he hires the best people, why did he lose Michael Flynn, one of his closest aides and National Security Advisor? Reince Preibus? Ryan “Puerto Rico Lineman” Zinke, Tom Price, Steve Bannon… and Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates? And what the heck happened with Scaramucci?

The list of those he’s hired, then had to fire is no longer just a chyron of cable news, it’s an actual list.

Today, the President told the world that the Mueller indictments announced this morning are for crimes from “years ago,” and says Manafort’s role in the campaign was a small one.

This is simply untrue. No one likes the word “lie,” but call it what you want: the indictment includes crimes committed last summer, during the campaign, and Manafort’s role was a large one. He was hired March 29 to run the campaign. In every way.

Here’s what Trump said at the time:

“Paul [Manafort] is a great asset and an important addition as we consolidate the tremendous support we have received in the primaries and caucuses, garnering millions more votes than any other candidate. Paul Manafort, and the team I am building, bring the needed skill sets to ensure that the will of the Republican voters, not the Washington political establishment, determines who will be the nominee for the Republican Party. I look forward to winning the nomination, and ultimately the presidency in order to Make America Great Again.”

And here’s what I said at the time:

“The man doesn’t hide that he plays the card tables across the globe. His digital rolodex swerves the topographical surface of earth from French presidential candidates and African rebel force commanders to Ukrainian oligarchs and American senators. He doesn’t just rub shoulders with dictators and arms dealers, or lobby on behalf of Saudi princes, he runs PR for their organizations – when he’s not fraternizing with them. Think: OLIVIA POPE WITH A BLACK HAT – the Lord of War, and masseuse of criminal legacies. This is the master of Donald trump’s machine today.”

Manafort’s greatest asset was to network the world’s most powerful with the world’s most degraded, and to run PR and campaigns for them. But somehow it was overlooked that his resume’s crown jewel was to elect a pro-Putin Ukrainian president through questionable means. Or, perhaps that’s why he was hired. First, as campaign chairman, then, as manager when he pushed Corey Lewandowski aside to take over the entire campaign a month later.

At this exact moment, trump was teasing the Russians to hack servers on national TV. Donald, Jr., Kushner and Manafort were meeting with Russians about “adoption.” A now-dead GOP operative was communicating with Wikileaks about finding Hillary’s emails. And Roger Stone (Manafort’s longtime business partner and friend) was messaging Guccifer 2.0 about the Wikileaks dump that month. This isn’t “liberal fake news.” It’s on FoxNews. It’s not denied.

The only Russia-connected hires he still has on board are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Rosneft/Exxon oil field) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (Bank of Cyprus). Both of which stand to earn billions among their small circles if sanctions are lifted in the Arctic.

Yeah, it’s all coincidence. And it’s not Trump’s responsibility that he hired all these “great people.” Nah. This is all Hillary.

 

What Does The Surveillance of Paul Manafort Mean?

The big story these days is the breaking news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was under FBI surveillance. This has brought forth a flurry of claims that Trump was right about his charges of wiretapping, that the FBI only tracked Manafort to find out what Trump was doing and that Manafort was only guilty of talking to Russian diplomats.

The real story is that this news isn’t breaking news at all. The story broke during the campaign that there was an active FISA warrant for surveillance of members of the Trump campaign staff. A November 2016 article by Heat Street (which has since been acquired by MarketWatch) reported that a broad FISA warrant request in June 2016 included Donald Trump as a target. This request was denied, but a subsequent, more narrow request was granted in October.

This was confirmed by the BBC in a January 2017 article which described how the warrant was issued to investigate two Russian banks. The investigation stemmed from intelligence passed to the US by an unnamed Baltic nation in April 2016. The intelligence allegedly included a recorded conversation “about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.” The BBC article mentioned, but did not name, “three of Mr. Trump’s associates were the subject of the inquiry.”

One of the three was Michael Flynn. Flynn was Trump’s first national security advisor. Flynn was fired early in the Trump Administration after it was revealed through leaked surveillance information that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s contacts with the Russians were apparently uncovered as an incidental target as the intelligence community monitored Russian diplomats. Flynn is still under investigation by both the Pentagon and Mueller’s task force.

In April 2017, the New York Times named a second target of the investigation. The report stated explicitly that Carter Page had been the target of a FISA warrant after he left the Trump campaign. “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross,” the report said, citing an unnamed official.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was the third target of the investigation. Manafort had long had ties to the Putin government. He had worked as a consultant for the pro-Russian political party that controlled the Ukraine until it was toppled by a revolution in 2014. Manafort’s name was listed in the so-called “Black Ledger” that detailed secret payments by the Ukrainian ruling party. The ledger, which was discovered after the revolution, showed that Manafort received at least $1.2 million from the pro-Putin ruler of Ukraine per AP reports. Manafort was fired by Trump in August 2016 after the story of the Ukrainian payments broke.

The new story by CNN detailing Manafort’s surveillance says that Manafort was the subject of two FISA warrants. The first, centered on his work in the Ukraine, began in 2014 and “was discontinued at some point last year [2016] for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.”

The dates for the second warrant are not known but it apparently began after “FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The warrant reportedly continued until early 2017. The dates suggest that Manafort was not monitored while he was an official part of the Trump campaign, although they do cover a period when he had discussions with President Trump. “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” CNN notes.

Another report by the New York Times says that federal agents raided Manafort’s home in July 2017. Again, this was after his official role as a member of Donald Trump’s campaign staff was long over.

So was Donald Trump right when he claimed that Obama was “tapping” his phones? So far there is still no evidence of this. Surveillance of Trump’s associates is not the same as surveillance of Trump himself. This is especially true if the surveillance did not occur during the period when Trump’s associates were working on his campaign. This would also indicate that the surveillance was not to find out what the Trump campaign was up to.

Further, the surveillance of Paul Manafort was not the result of business-as-usual contacts with Russian diplomats. A FISA warrant was issued for Manafort because he was communicating with Russian agents. A FISA warrant is not proof of guilt, but it does require probable cause. The denial of the June 2016 warrant request is proof that warrants are not issued on a frivolous basis.

The investigation into Paul Manafort and the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign is not yet complete. In the weeks and months to come, we may learn exactly why Manafort was talking to the Russians and what was said. At this point, there is no smoking gun, but there are indications, such as the decision to threaten Manafort with indictment, that Special Counsel Mueller is building a strong case. Part of that case may be on incriminating evidence that resulted from surveillance under the FISA warrant.

Comparing Timeline to Emails Creates Big Problems for Trump

The text of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails detailing the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya is troubling enough, but the way the emails fit into the overall timeline of the presidential campaign and the unfolding Russia scandal are even more problematic for the Trump Administration. The emails, released by Donald Trump, Jr., provide confirmation that members of the Trump campaign were open to accepting “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” and actions taken by the Trump campaign may indicate that Donald Trump himself was aware of the offer and intended to use the Russian government’s intelligence information.

The email chain began on June 3, 2016, about a week after Donald Trump had officially secured a majority of Republican delegates to become the presumptive nominee. At this point, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the theft of the emails was not public knowledge.

On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Donald Trump announced, “I am going to give a major speech on… probably Monday of next week [June13] and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons and I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

The next day, June 8, the @DCLeaks_ Twitter account posted the first links to stolen emails on the DC Leaks website. The DC Leaks website and Facebook accounts apparently debuted the same day.

On Thursday, June 9, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, “The [sic] Russian government attorney” referred to in the emails, in New York’s Trump Tower.

On Sunday, June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on British television that more leaked emails relating to the Clinton campaign would be coming out soon.

Donald Trump did not make his promised “very interesting” speech on June 13, but on June 14, the Washington Post broke the news that hackers had penetrated the DNC network and “gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The report, which identified the culprits as “Russian government hackers” even at that early date, also said that “the intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic.” The Post also reported the hackers had targeted Republicans as well. Trump’s speeches from that week did not contain any new and notable information about Hillary.

The next day, June 15, a hacker calling himself “Guccifer 2.0” contacted The Smoking Gun to claim credit for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. Guccifer 2.0  claimed to be a Romanian, but is widely suspected to be a creation of Russian intelligence.

On June 18, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had removed a pledge to provide weapons to the Ukrainian forces fighting the Putin-backed invasion of their country. The report says that the changes were made “last week,” which would mean the platform changes immediately followed the meeting of Trump’s campaign advisors with Veselnitskaya.

On June 27, the first stolen DNC emails were published on the DC Leaks website.

A month later, on July 22, WikiLeaks released a second batch of DNC emails. The FBI announced that it was opening an investigation into the hack shortly after.

It was at this point that Donald Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding the emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. “I will tell you this,” Trump said on July 27 at a press conference, “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

A few months later, just before the final release of stolen emails by WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, a Trump advisor, seemed to hint that something big was coming. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on August 21. In the week before the final email dump on Oct. 7, Stone posted three tweets hinting that something was coming according to Business Insider, including one on Oct. 3 that read “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon.”

While Donald Trump, Jr. claims that nothing of substance emerged from the meeting with the Russian lawyer, his response to the emails and the subsequent actions of the Trump campaign clearly show an intent to use information obtained from a foreign government to discredit a political rival. Such coordination is possibly illegal and certainly unethical.

While there is currently no paper trail that leads directly to Donald Trump, Sr., Trump’s speech on June 7 suggests that he was aware that something was in the wind. Additionally, his July 27 appeal to Russia looks starkly different in view of the revelation that the Russian government had offered its assistance to his campaign a month before.

In addition to the fact that none of the Trump advisors disclosed the meeting and that Donald Trump, Jr. initially lied about what was discussed, the emails create another problem for the Trump Administration.  The timing of the meeting and the platform change raise the possibility of a quid pro quo with the Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign changed the Republican Party platform in a way that benefitted the Russian government immediately after the Russians offered dirt on Hillary is something that will be difficult to explain away. It is also a decision that can likely be traced to Donald Trump himself.

Although the Donald Trump, Jr. emails are not a smoking gun to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but they are close to it.

Cyberattacks on Nuclear Facilities Threaten Power Grids

One of the scariest books that I have ever read is “One Second After” by William Forstchen. The book is the gripping story of what happens to a small North Carolina town after a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States. After the EMP destroys the power grids for the entire country, starvation and anarchy become the order of the day. Now it seems that hackers may soon be able to achieve the same result without a nuclear missile.

The New York Times details an urgent joint report by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that says that hackers have been attacking computer networks of nuclear power and other energy companies since May. The attacks have occurred in the United States as well as other countries.

The extent of the attacks is not known. The report also did not specify whether the goal of the hackers was commercial espionage or something more destructive, such as disabling safety systems or shutting down electric power production and distribution grids. The story cites a joint statement by the FBI and DHS that said, “There is no indication of a threat to public safety, as any potential impact appears to be limited to administrative and business networks.”

According to the report, the hackers appeared to be mapping the computer systems in possible preparation for a future attack. The code used in the attacks has not been fully analyzed to confirm this theory.

The strategy seems similar to the pattern of cyberattacks on the Ukraine by Russia. In December 2015, intrusions similar to the foray into American energy company computers preceded a hacker-caused blackout in the Ukraine. Wired reports that power was restored to most areas after a few hours, but that it took months to fully restore operational control.

The hackers in the Ukraine cyberattack rewrote the firmware that controls critical equipment at some substations so that even though the power was on, operators could not control the breakers remotely. The Ukrainians had to use manual backups to restore power to their grid in these areas, but many American companies lack these manual controls. A cyberattack on the American power grid might result in a long blackout as companies try to rewrite the malicious code.

As with the Ukraine attack, the primary suspect for the cyberattacks on American power companies is a “state actor,” most likely Russia. While Russian involvement has not been confirmed, sources in the Times report say that the attacks resemble the previous work of “Energetic Bear,” a Russian hacking group that has been linked to numerous attacks on energy companies since 2012.

Some of the attacks were reportedly initiated by “phishing” emails sent to senior engineers that contained fake resumes that were infected with malicious code. In some cases, the hackers corrupted legitimate sites that were frequented by their targets. This sort of attack is referred to as a “watering hole” attack. The hackers are also known to have used the “man-in-the-middle” strategy which redirects a target’s legitimate internet traffic through servers controlled by the hackers.

The timing of the attacks coincided with a cybersecurity Executive Order issued by President Trump on May 13. The order allows cybersecurity experts in US intelligence agencies to share their expertise with industries such as energy companies. The president also instructed the government not to buy technological equipment from Russian and Chinese companies and to focus on securing power grids and other parts of US infrastructure from cyberattacks.

There are many warning signs that our electronic infrastructure is vulnerable and at risk of a crippling cyberattack. President Trump’s Executive Order is a step in the right direction, but it will take years to fully secure power grids and company computer systems against cyberattacks. There seems to be no time to waste.

Is the Greatest Deal Maker Making a Bad Deal?

And with Russia of all places. This is my shocked face…

In late December of last year, during the initial fallout of America realizing Russia’s campaign to influence the election had been more broad than originally thought, the Obama administration grasped a few last breaths. They retaliated against the Russian campaign in a few of the ways it had remaining. We seized two compounds in Maryland and New York, long operated by the Russian state for various diplomatic and business interests, but had long been suspected of being home to intelligence operations as well. Our government followed this action by subsequently expelling 35 diplomats and state operatives, accusing them of intelligence efforts.

The seizure wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, since there were already increased tensions in Moscow last year, with Russian security services harassing American staff and even physically assaulting a diplomat outside the entrance to the US embassy in Moscow. The Obama administration had threatened to shut down the two seized properties then, but did not do so.

The action was, at the time laughed off by the Russian leadership, but the trump administration sought almost immediately to salve the wound. In early May of this year, the US government offered to return the properties in exchange for approval of American attempts to build a new embassy in Moscow, which itself was frozen by the Russian government in response to the 2014 sanctions levied by western nations for it’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, two days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian ambassador Segey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and dropped any connection between the two. We were no longer asking for a fair trade. Why did we surrender our leverage in the discussion? No one knows. Perhaps unrelated (but not necessarily), in 2012, Rex Tillerson was recipient of Russia’s highest honor of a foreign national, the “order of friendship.” We won’t get into that here.

Now, the Post is reporting that the trump administration is considering the return of the compound without any trade at all. While no agreement has been formally reached, the administration is evaluating possible restrictions placed on the properties and its inhabitants, such as removing diplomatic immunity from them.

The move comes while Russia reorganizes the deck of international representation. America’s most infamous Russian, Sergey Kislyak is set to be replaced by new ambassador Anatoly Antonov, set to take the reins sometime this summer. Antonov, a general in Russia’s armed forces, is known as a hardliner against the west, and is particularly steely against the United States. Kislyak, for his service, appears slated to take over as undersecretary of counterterrorism at the United Nations. He served as US ambassador since 2008.

In the end, the shift within the last month from a seemingly fair trade to a diplomatic gift does not appear to be diplomacy at all, but simple surrender. It’s an odd turn of events for an administration that claims to be such a great deal maker.

No matter where one sits on the current investigations into election meddling, the reality is that Russia did invade Ukraine in 2014. And in response to resulting sanctions from the United States, Russia froze our construction plans in Moscow for our own diplomatic operations. Then, two years later, Russia did involve itself in an effort to influence the US election for president. Those efforts ranged from gathering voter info and hyper-targeting individuals with propaganda, to hacking operations and massive, coordinated social media trolling. The reasons for Russia’s involvement may vary, but it happened. Everyone, including the president himself has accepted this. So, the full surrender on the compound seizure appears weak at best, and suspect at worst. In the least, the optics are terrible. Even the Kremlin’s Yury Ushakov acknowledged the “political situation” faced by the American administration, but said Russia may be open to some reciprocation if the US adjusted it’s position.

I don’t understand the gestures at all. Our president spends more time criticizing our closest democratic and economic allies than publicly acknowledging what the Republican Party has long understood (but apparently completely forgotten within the last 10 months) – Russia is aggressive, and a geopolitical foe. How things change.

Since when do we send flowers ahead of crossing the bridge, before getting our own hostages in return? Every time you look at how this administration handles Russian affairs, you wonder why anyone would not expect tensions to exist between Washington and Berlin… or London… or Paris… rather than Moscow.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to the Republican Party of November, 2014. We were awesome then, and still had a soul.

U.S. to Russia: “It’s Not Your Ukraine”

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., tweeted a statement and gave a speech directed at Russia on Thursday, saying:

The dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions… The United States stands with the people of Ukraine, who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention.  Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.

Since March 2014, there has been an insurgency in eastern Ukraine by those who seek to separate their region from the rest of the country (the “War in Donbass”).  If they were successful, it would be very likely that Russia would then annex the territory, similar to what they did in Crimea in 2014.  Russia has been accused (correctly) of helping to support, arm, and man the insurgency in Ukraine.

Some context helps to understand why the fighting is occurring.  During the Soviet era, Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union.  Following the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russia formed the Russian Federation as the Soviet successor state and remained the dominant power in the region.  However, Ukraine chose to go its separate way from Russia; over time, Ukraine drifted towards Europe and NATO, and thus away from Russia and its influence.

This is one factor in Russia’s fixation on Ukraine.  Another is Ukraine’s ethnic makeup.  The western part of Ukraine is ethnic Ukrainian, while the eastern part has a large proportion of ethnic Russians (Crimea itself is majority ethnic Russian).  These people tend to identify more with Russia than Ukraine and therefore seek to bring their territory into the Russian Federation.

A third factor centers around the natural gas fields in eastern Ukraine as well as past disputes between Russia and Ukraine concerning natural gas.  Europe receives about a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia and over 80% of it flows through pipelines in Ukraine.  The two countries have been bickering over gas flows, prices, and Ukrainian payment defaults for over a decade.

Thus, the conflict in eastern Ukraine involves issues of regional power, ethnicity, and commercial interests.  Therefore, it will be difficult for Russia to unwind the chaos it has unleashed in the region.  However, it is necessary in order for a continued warming of U.S.-Russian relations and joint cooperation on other matters, such as fighting ISIS and Islamic terrorism in general.  As I speculated recently, one possible outcome would be for Russia to cease its activities in eastern Ukraine, helping the rebels there to reach a negotiated settlement with the Ukrainian government (possibly with some form of self-rule), while the U.S. tacitly recognizes Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  In addition, an agreement on future natural gas flows and pricing would need to be reached.  Then, both sides can move onto other matters.

Therefore, Nikki Haley’s statement seems to be another move in the chess match between the U.S. and Russia.  Notice that she simply “condemned” the actions and tossed the issue over to Russia for their turn to respond.  There was no ultimatum or “red line” issued, simply a recognition that if Russia does not act, then “this crisis will continue.”

It will be interesting to see how Russia does respond.  Will it work to tone down the fighting in Ukraine so as to reach a negotiated end to the conflict, allowing all sides to save face?  Or will it seek to annex eastern Ukraine?  Another factor in all this is Iran.  Hopefully the U.S. and Russia can work together to help temper Iran’s belligerence in the Middle East (the U.S. by mounting a more forceful response to Iran, and Russia by leveraging its commercial links with Iran).

The alternative to U.S.-Russian cooperation would be that Russia and Iran come closer together in their alliance.  This would be unfortunate, as the possibility of an armed conflict between the U.S. on the one side and Russia and Iran on the other is in nobody’s long-term interests.

Barack Obama’s Legacy of Failure

As the Obama era draws to a long awaited close, it’s appropriate to look back on the past eight years and contemplate the legacy of Barack Obama. For those seeking to put a positive spin on President Obama’s seemingly endless administration, I’m reminded of Mr. Chow’s standard of excellence from the “Hangover” movies: “Did you die?” No, I didn’t die during Obama’s tenure, but by any other standard his administration will probably be judged a failure by history.

Mr. Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the law that bears his name in popular culture, is a failure and its days are numbered. The Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” has not lived up to its name. Health insurance premiums have increased sharply under Obamacare, even as deductibles and coinsurance have increased. This means that Americans are paying more for healthcare both at the insurance office and the doctor’s office. And, of course, Barack Obama’s promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” went down in history as the Lie of the Year.

Even by the standard of providing coverage to the uninsured, Obamacare is a failure. The uninsured rate is at a historic low, but remains above 10 percent. For its enormous cost and disruption, Obamacare hardly ushered in an era of universal healthcare.

Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan is largely forgotten now, but it is part of his legacy. The plan failed to stimulate the economy, but the Obama era has been a period of heady deficit spending. The borrowed $787 billion stimulus set the tone for the rest of Obama’s presidency. In the final analysis, President Obama nearly doubled the national debt. According to data from USgovernmentspending.com, the total federal debt has increased to more than 100 percent of GDP under Obama. The debt increased from $12 trillion under President Bush to about $23 trillion today. That is more than a trillion dollars per year of debt for every year of the Obama presidency!

Even after inflating the national debt, the US has still not fully recovered from the Great Recession. Even though unemployment has stabilized and decreased, the labor participation rate, the metric that shows how many Americans are in the work force, has decreased throughout Obama’s presidency. To find a historic level that is as low as the current level under Obama, you’d have to look all the way back to 1978 and the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

One part of the Obama legacy that will stand, for better or for worse, is the redefinition of marriage. While this was an action of the Supreme Court and not the president, Obama failed to adequately defend marriage laws in court and appointed justices that helped to upend thousands of years of tradition. As the first sitting president to embrace same-sex marriage, the landmark decision will be linked to his presidency.

Barack Obama also has a secure place in history as the first black president. His election did not heal the racial divide among Americans however. His tenure was marred by racial tension, especially over shootings by police, and race riots. A CNN/ORC poll in October found that more than half of Americans think that race relations have gotten worse under Obama.

President Obama’s record on foreign policy isn’t much better than his domestic record. One of the first things that comes to mind with President Obama’s efforts at diplomacy is the withdrawal from Iraq. President Obama campaigned in 2008 on withdrawing from Iraq and, in 2012, made good his promise after failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in the country.

In 2012, Iraq was a stable and functioning democracy. A short time later, after US troops left the country, the Islamic State launched an offensive and gained control of large parts of both Iraq and Syria. Military leaders say that Obama ignored their advice to maintain a US force in Iraq to stabilize the region. The hundreds of thousands of dead, many brutally murdered by ISIS, are a part of Obama’s legacy as well.

The Middle East is not the only region where America’s enemies advanced during the Obama years. Russian President Vladimir Putin brazenly annexed Crimea in 2014. Russia has been fighting a proxy war against the Ukraine ever since. The Ukraine had relied on US and British protection under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Ukraine gave its nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for “security assurances.”

In Asia, China has not fired shots in anger, but the communist country has illegally been turning South China Sea atolls into artificial islands. Military bases are being built on the islands that could threaten many US allies in the region.

Obama’s seminal foreign policy achievements are abject failures. His nuclear deal with Iran was never ratified by Congress and is already being violated by the Iranians. The Trans Pacific Partnership, one of Mr. Obama’s few conservative achievements, was pronounced dead on arrival by President-elect Donald Trump, who is on par with Bernie Sanders when it comes to free trade agreements.

Ironically, one of the biggest legacies of Obama, the champion of the nanny state, is the loss of faith in government among Americans. Gallup shows that American trust in government peaked in 2003 when 60 percent of Americans believed that government would do the right thing most of the time. The current number is lower even than when President Bush left office amid the Iraq War and the Great Recession. In spite of – or perhaps because of – Obama’s conviction that government is the solution to every problem, only 19 percent of Americans now trust the government. Gallup also shows that 67 percent of Americans see government as the biggest threat facing the country. This is a 13-point increase over Obama’s term.

The falloff in trust in government may explain another Obama legacy. Under President Obama, the Democratic Party has been devastated at the state and local level. During Obama’s eight years, the party of Big Government lost more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures, governorships, Congress and the White House.

Even though President Obama leaves office with a respectable approval rating of 57 percent, his coattails have been short to nonexistent. Barack Obama’s personal popularity has not translated into popularity for his party or his ideas. With few rising stars surviving the Republican electoral victories of the past four years and Democratic ideas rejected by voters, the Democratic Party has a difficult road ahead.

Trump Calls For Nuclear Arms Race

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” is reporting that President-elect Donald Trump has called for a new nuclear arms race. The comment was allegedly made to Mika Brzezinski in a response to a Trump tweet yesterday.

The original tweet from Mr. Trump read, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

In a “Morning Joe” clip, Joe Scarborough says that they asked Mr. Trump for clarification. Brzezinski responds that Trump told her, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass.”

“And outlast them all,” Scarborough adds.

“And outlast them all,” Brzezinski confirms.

“All right, you can put that down as breaking news,” Scarborough quips.

Last month, the Heritage Foundation released a report rating US nuclear forces as “marginal.” Heritage found that US nuclear forces depend on older weapons systems at a time when countries such as Russia and China are upgrading their nuclear forces. Other countries such as North Korea, Iran and India are also building and expanding their nuclear arsenals.

Trump’s original tweet came shortly after a year-end speech by Vladimir Putin in which Putin called upon Russia to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” The US and NATO have deployed the Aegis Ashore missile defense system to several countries that were formerly part of the Soviet bloc.

Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer during the Cold War, once said that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Many observers believe that Putin’s foreign policy is aimed at restoring the former satellite countries of the Soviet Union into the orbit of the modern Russian Federation. Diplomatic and economic pressure and military attacks on countries such as Georgia and the Ukraine have furthered this goal.

Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump has been perceived to be a proponent of Putin and Russia. He removed a plank from the Republican Party platform that would have called for lethal military aid to Ukrainians fighting Russia-backed rebel forces. Trump has also signaled a willingness to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Crimea and possibly even recognize Crimea as part of Russia. Many Trump appointees have strong links to Putin’s Russia.

The hardline response to Russian nuclear sabre rattling may also be linked to the Russian interference in the US election. Trump has been embarrassed by reports that Russia leaked Democratic documents in an attempt to help the Republican win the election. Trump may feel the need to talk tough after Putin’s nuclear comments because the hacking reports made him look weak.

It is too early to tell whether the comments from Trump and Putin will lead to a new arms race and Cold War. It is likely, however, that the Putin’s expansionist aims for Eastern Europe will put the two countries on a collision course that will test President Trump’s foreign policy skill and resolve.