Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Foreign Policy, Courtesy of the New America

A scary prognosis if one is not an American (and maybe if one is?) ---

Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence at a campaign event last summer, when health care reform was but a twinkle in their eyes. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

From the NYTimes Interpreter Newsletter of March 29th ---
"What The Health Care Fight Tells Us About How Trump Would Handle a Foreign Policy Crisis:

Two months (yes, only two months!) into the Trump presidency, the administration’s foreign policy remains largely untested. But we can infer several things about how Mr. Trump might approach a foreign policy crisis from how his administration handled the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act:-

Coercion over Consensus-Building: Mr. Trump sought to pass the bill not by searching for a set of terms acceptable to key stakeholders, but rather by using sticks and carrots to try inducing individual lawmakers into voting yes. But no set of inducements could solve the underlying political problem, which was that no known version of the bill would meet the minimum basic needs of major Republican factions.
In, say, a crisis over North Korea, this strategy would carry similar risks. Should Mr. Trump seek to pressure China by threatening sticks or promising carrots — rather than look for a policy that is mutually acceptable to China and the United States — he risks only alienating Beijing.

Going it Alone: Mr. Trump saved his sharpest sticks for allies, threatening and pressuring Republican lawmakers, particularly House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. After the vote, he punished those allies with tweets blaming them for its failure.
That could be even riskier in foreign policy. Republican lawmakers aren’t likely to switch parties, so they are inextricably tied to Mr. Trump. But foreign allies can always hedge against the United States.
For example, imagine if China provoked a crisis in the South China Sea. If Mr. Trump responded by telling allies he would punish them if they didn’t join a common front against Beijing, then those allies might calculate they are better off accommodating China and forgoing American support.

Bluffing: Mr. Trump warned Republicans that if they failed to support the health care bill, he would humiliate them by forcing a public vote, but later backed down.
In foreign policy, this could work once, or maybe twice, with each country. Research suggests that individual countries do not judge the United States’ credibility based on how it treats other countries; if Mr. Trump gets caught bluffing against Iran, that doesn’t undermine his threats against North Korea.
However, each called bluff does substantially harm the United States’ ability to influence that particular country. A bluff against Iran would leave the United States less able to constrain Iranian behaviour or deter a conflict. It would also weaken American influence with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that oppose Iran and would feel burned by the bluff.

Grandiose Campaign Promises: Mr.Trump, during the campaign, pledged to deliver universal health coverage while reducing costs. When it became clear this was not in the cards, health care became politically lose-lose for Mr. Trump, leaving him with little incentive to seek a more realistic solution.
Similarly sweeping foreign policy promises could also cause problems. Mr. Trump promised to impose American will on the world while withdrawing from overseas commitments; to dominate adversaries while eschewing allies; and to defeat the Islamic State as well as seize oil from the Middle East.
Almost any outcome in any foreign policy crisis is likely to fall short of Mr. Trump’s promises and disappoint his base That could leave him, as with health care, uninterested in eking out the modest foreign policy successes that are typically the best any administration can hope for.

Falsehoods: The administration’s tendency toward falsehoods included, for example, misrepresenting how the Congressional Budget Office had scored the health care bill.
This could be the riskiest habit to carry into foreign policy. In a major crisis, states avoid a slide into war by carefully telegraphing their actions, goals and red lines. The fog of war would be made denser by administration falsehoods, making an unintended escalation likelier.
This would also undermine the United States’ ability to spur global action against an imminent threat. Consider, for example, the Obama administration’s step, in 2009, to reveal Iran’s clandestine nuclear development, which spurred even Russia and China to support sanctions. If Mr. Trump claimed to have proof of Iranian nuclear cheating, would the world listen?

Impatience: Though the Obama administration spent roughly a year on building support for health reform, including national tours and countless speeches, the Trump administration gave it less than three weeks.
At the end of the process, during which Mr. Trump made few public comments and spent his weekends golfing at Trump properties, he explained his decision to call for pulling the bill: 'It’s enough already.'
This lack of patience could make it difficult to address long-running foreign policy problems such as Iran. The Iran nuclear deal took several years of painstaking diplomacy to achieve. A similar effort seems, at the moment, unlikely from Mr. Trump."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Markers of the Seasons

 Source Wikipedia
Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day in Dingle, Ireland.

Beginning the late 1960s traditional melodies began finding their way into popular music as part of a transatlantic folk revival which shifted those of us whose origins lay in the British Isles away from the musical products of black America towards an appreciation of our native Anglo-Celtic heritage. In Britain bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span utilized new instrumentation and recording techniques to revive and reinvent material from our rich island tradition of balladry.  

Flutist Ian Anderson (namesake only) has long been a leading songwriter in this genre. Back in the winter of 1974 Anderson moved house into the English countryside to record an LP titled ‘Songs from the Wood’.  Here, and in his follow-up album ‘Heavy Horses’, he left behind the American world of little red roosters, cotton fields, sugar shacks and bayous to take us to the world of our birthright - the greenwood, uplands, farmland and the shore - to celebrate our own history and traditions.

I am particularly fond of his composition, ‘Ring out, Solstice Bells’, an upbeat celebration of a time, the midwinter solstice, when Nature is at her gloomiest. Despite rain, sleet, snow and mist, throughout the ages this has been a period for rejoicing.In Roman England and Wales, Saturnalia, the festival of light, heralded the renewal of light in the coming of another year. Candles were lit to symbolize knowledge and truth. Named after Saturn, the god of renewal, Saturnalia’s pagan traditions morphed into Christmas festivities once the Empire became Christian.

Throughout the Celtic lands the arrival of the winter solstice constituted an important marker between the great festivals of Samhain (the Celtic New Year about the time of Hallowe’en) and Imbolc (now Saint Brigid’s Day at the start of February). There is a solstice tradition among the Celts, probably dating from pagan times, of the Wren Boys. In its earliest days they killed a wren but later they created a giant animated lantern to resemble that bird, this to be hounded on all sides by the band of masked Wren Boys as they processed through their village. On St Stephen’s (or Boxing) Day, as their antics symbolized giving chase to the old year to make way for the new, the Boys would regale each house they pass with musical laments for the unfortunate bird, accompanied by pleas for money for its funeral.

Today much of humanity lives cheek-by-jowl in dense urban settings where it is easy to lose sight of ourselves as a part of the living Earth. Continuing to celebrate those days like May Day, Midsummer's Eve and All Hallows Eve that act as markers of the seasons reinforces that we humans are a creature of Nature that needs honour the life-giving passage of our planet around its sun. Reviving and reinterpreting the ceremonial and musical lore of our forbears can play a key role in anchoring us to our origins and fostering a sense of community in a fast-changing world.