Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

A year after IS defeat, Iraq in throes of political crisis

December 10, 2018

A year since Iraq announced “victory” over the Islamic State group, the country finds itself in the throes of political and economic crises left unresolved during the long battle against jihadists.

Unified against the common menace of IS, Iraq’s political elites are now at loggerheads over the drawn-out formation of a cabinet as the threat of renewed popular protests looms.

Iraq is no stranger to instability. It fought an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, then a conflict over Kuwait followed by a crippling international embargo and the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A sectarian war ensued, capped in 2014 by IS’s devastating sweep across a third of the country.

An Iraqi man waves his national flag in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 10, 2017, during a gathering celebrating the end of the three-year war against the Islamic State (IS) group

An Iraqi man waves his national flag in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on December 10, 2017, during a gathering celebrating the end of the three-year war against the Islamic State (IS) group An Iraqi man waves his national flag in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on December 10, 2017, during a gathering celebrating the end of the three-year war against the Islamic State (IS) group AFP

Backed by a US-led international coalition, Iraqi troops and paramilitary forces battled the jihadists for three years, until Baghdad finally declared it had won in December 2017.

After decades of nearly back-to-back wars, Iraq’s decision-makers are now forced to face deep-rooted dilemmas left festering for years.

“In Iraq you’ve seen many ‘missions accomplished’,” said Renad Mansour, senior fellow at Chatham House in London.

“But as usual, the much more challenging victory is the political victory — which has always been left for another day.”

Five months after Baghdad declared its win, the country held legislative elections that did not produce a clear governing coalition.

Then-prime minister Haider al-Abadi failed to hold on to his position despite claiming credit for victory, as people turned to populist parties who tapped anger over corruption.

The ongoing power struggle among various parties has stymied efforts by new premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, widely seen as a weak consensus candidate, to form a government.

Image result for Adel Abdel Mahdi, iraq, photos

Adel Abdel Mahdi

– ‘Little to celebrate’ –

In October, Abdel Mahdi managed to fill 14 of the cabinet’s 22 posts, but repeated efforts to hold a parliamentary vote on the remaining eight, including the key interior and defence ministries, have failed.

“The distribution of power, the race to acquire as many government positions as possible under the guise of real competition between parties — that is at the root of the problem,” Iraqi political analyst Jassem Hanoun told AFP.

“Iraq is still living in a transition period, without political stability or a clear administrative vision for the country.”

As the process drags on, observers have wondered whether Abdel Mahdi could step down, further destabilising a country just getting back on its feet.

“Withdrawal is an option,” a source close to the government said, adding that Abdel Mahdi “has his resignation letter in his back pocket”.

“Only if the political situation gets significantly worse can I see him taking it out of his pocket and using it,” the source said.

But the thorny issues facing Iraq extend beyond the capital.

Much of the country remains in ruins after three years of ferocious fighting, including large swathes of one-time IS capital Mosul and the northern Sinjar region.

An international summit in Kuwait in February gathered around $30 billion in pledges for Iraq’s reconstruction — less than a third of what Baghdad hoped to receive.

More than 1.8 million Iraqis are still displaced, many languishing in camps, and 8 million require humanitarian aid, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

“If this is what ‘victory’ looks like, then there is little to celebrate for millions of Iraqis still haunted by the crimes of the IS and the long war to eliminate it,” said NRC’s head Jan Egeland.

– ‘Disaster’ –

Violence has dropped across Iraq, according to the United Nations, which recorded the lowest casualty figures in six years in November with 41 civilians killed.

But the threat of hit-and-run attacks lingers.

A recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that while the total number of IS attacks in Iraq had dropped in 2018, those against government targets had increased compared to 2017.

Observers are also worried that the bitter squabbles among Iraqi’s political forces could turn violent.

“Because of the divisions among the parties, anything is possible,” Hanoun said.

One scenario would be a conflict among the country’s competing Shiite Muslim factions, which he said would be a “disaster”.

But another major fault line divides Iraq’s entrenched politicians and an increasingly frustrated public.

Deadly protests in the summer of 2017 saw tens of thousands turn out over unemployment, a lack of public services, and accusations of corruption.

Rampant power cuts mean millions of Iraqis have just a few hours of state-provided electricity per day. The country is ranked the 12th most corrupt in the world, according to the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Protest leaders have threatened a return to the streets if these issues, as well as the political stalemate, are not resolved.

“There’s certainly a conflict within the Shiite camp, but the biggest conflict will be between the people and the whole system,” said Mansour.

“Summertime will be a test for Abdel Mahdi.”


U.S. Adds Below-Forecast 155,000 Jobs as Wage Gain Misses

December 7, 2018
  • Monthly earnings increase 0.2%, compared with 0.3% forecasts
  • Unemployment rate holds at 3.7%, lowest level since 1969
U.S. Adds 155,000 Jobs in November, Jobless Rate Holds Steady at 3.7%

U.S. jobs and wages rose by less than forecast in November while the unemployment rate held at the lowest in almost five decades, indicating some moderation in a still-healthy labor market.

Image result for U.S. Auto workers, factory, photos

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 155,000 after a downwardly revised 237,000 gain in the prior month, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for an increase of 198,000. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2 percent from the prior month, compared with forecasts for 0.3 percent, though wages matched projections on an annual basis, up 3.1 percent for a second month.

Treasury yields initially dipped and the dollar declined as the report added to signs that economic growth is cooling a bit, following weakness in business-equipment orders and an ebbing of consumer optimism. While the data may spur more concern over the outlook after stocks and bond yields tumbled this week, some investors may see the prospect of a slower pace of Federal Reserve interest-rate increases as a positive following an expected hike this month, as equity futures rose following the jobs data.

“It’s not like 155,000 is a terrible number, but it’s below what people were looking for,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. After an unusually strong two quarters for the economy, “we’re looking for growth to step down this quarter and you should probably also expect to see the labor market cool off some. It’s consistent with the economy coming off what people call a sugar rush.”

For the Fed’s interest-rate hikes, “December is pretty close to a done deal,” Feroli said. “For next year, it depends what the data looks like the next couple of months. It doesn’t feel like things are softening in an alarming way. If it’s really soft, they’ll take a break.”

The jobless rate was unchanged at 3.7 percent in November, matching estimates. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said late Thursday that the U.S. labor market is “very strong” by many measures and that the economy is “performing very well overall.”

Even so, one key risk is the trade war between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies. While the nations agreed last weekend on a 90-day pause for new tariffs, the accumulated levies and developments have created uncertainty for companies and may weigh on the employment outlook.

Retail Payrolls

Retailers showed solid demand for workers overall, hiring 18,200 people in the month before Christmas; general-merchandise stores added the most employees while clothing and electronics stores cut workers. Transportation and warehousing, a category closely linked to retail, also saw gains of 25,400 in the month.

Construction jobs rose by 5,000, the weakest since a decline in March, as gains cooled among residential specialty trade contractors. Manufacturing remained strong at an increase of 27,000.

The monthly gain in average hourly earnings for all private workers followed a downwardly revised 0.1 percent increase, the report showed. The annual increase topped 3 percent for a second month, reflecting how companies are steadily raising pay to attract and retain workers as the availability of workers tightens.

The gains probably still aren’t fast enough, though, to spur concerns of runaway inflation among Fed officials. While the unemployment rate is well below the level that central bankers consider sustainable in the long run, inflation has remained close to the central bank’s target, leading some to question whether the Fed should keep raising interest rates.

Here are other highlights from the report:


  • Revisions subtracted 12,000 jobs from payrolls in the prior two months, resulting in a three-month average gain of 170,000.
  • Private payrolls rose by 161,000, compared with the median estimate for 198,000; government payrolls decreased by 6,000.
  • Service providers added 132,000 jobs, including 40,100 in health care and social assistance. The 32,000 gain in professional and business services was the smallest since December 2017.


  • Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers increased 3.2 percent from a year earlier, following 3.2 percent in the prior month.
  • The average work week decreased to 34.4 hours from 34.5 hours in the prior month; a shorter workweek has the effect of boosting average hourly pay.


  • The participation rate was unchanged from the prior month at 62.9 percent. The measure tracks share of working-age people either with jobs or actively looking.
  • The employment-population ratio, another broad gauge of labor-market health, was unchanged at 60.6 percent.
  • The U-6, or underemployment rate, rose to 7.6 percent from 7.4 percent. This measure includes part-time workers who want a full-time job and people who are less active in seeking work.


US hiring slowed to 155K jobs, jobless rate stayed 3.7%

December 7, 2018

U.S. employers pulled back on hiring in November, adding just 155,000 jobs. That’s below this year’s average monthly gains but enough to suggest that the economy is expanding at a solid pace despite sharp gyrations in the stock market.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate remained 3.7%, nearly a five-decade low, for the third straight month. Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago, matching the previous month’s figure, which was the best since 2009.

Photographer: Alex FLynn/Bloomberg

The economy is expanding at a healthy pace but rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China, ongoing interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve, and slowing global growth have roiled financial markets. Analysts expect growth to slow but remain solid in 2019 as the impact of last year’s tax cuts fade.

– Associated Press – Friday, December 7, 2018

Why is Pakistan Chasing Away Foreign Investors?

December 3, 2018

With a population of more than 200 million people, Pakistan may be a growing market for foreign electronic goods and mobile phones. But a host of issues relating to the business environment, taxation and low purchasing power of consumers continue to keep them from investing in the manufacturing industry here.

“Pakistan is a strategic market for us… but it still remains a very small market for electronic goods because of the low purchasing power of consumers,” TCL Pakistan General Manager Sunny Yang said in response to a question whether her company planned to invest in TV parts manufacturing in Pakistan. She went on to list problems that foreign companies have to take into account when the time for making such a decision comes up.

Image result for , pakistan, pictures

“A small market size or the low purchasing power of consumers isn’t the only issue… a company has to consider the country situation as well,” added the executive of the world’s third largest LED TV manufacturer from China, which entered the Pakistan market back in 2013. Before that, it marketed LED TVs in Pakistan as a vendor of the Nobel brand 2006 onwards.

‘Customs duty on TV assemblers rose from 5pc to 30pc in five years’

“The ever-changing customs tariffs, exchange rate volatility leading to economic instability and a growing grey market of illegal and under-invoiced goods hurt a manufacturer’s pricing structure and its ability to plan for future,” she argued. “On top of these, there is this issue of inconsistency in policies. Every (foreign) investor wants to have a reliable policy environment and tax and other incentives for the next 20 or 25 years to plan for the long term.

“Just consider the example of the customs duty for TV assemblers in Pakistan. When we came here five years back, it was five per cent. Today it is 30pc, including 10pc regulatory duty (RD). Similarly, the dollar was priced at Rs99. Today it has fallen to Rs140. Can we pass on the full impact of higher tariffs and exchange rate depreciation to consumers? No, we cannot. The presence of illegal, grey market makes it even more difficult for a company like ours to recover the cost. These things don’t affect us alone. Every business in Pakistan is facing these problems,” she says.

Although total investment as a percentage of GDP has increased slightly in the last five years — from 14.6pc in 2014 to 16.4pc in 2018 — it is half the investment-to-GDP ratio of 30pc in India and Bangladesh. On top of that, private gross fixed investment (GFI) has decreased by 10 basis points from 9.9pc to 9.8pc during the same period.

TV sales by different foreign and local brands are believed to be around 1.2m a year. Their demand is growing at an annual rate of 10-12pc

Similarly, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows have also risen slightly to $2.7 billion a year during the last two financial years on the back of Chinese investments in power and other infrastructure projects.

Board of Investment (BoI) Chairman Haroon Sharif agrees with Ms Sunny’s assessment of the factors impeding fresh (foreign) investment in Pakistan. “We are aware of these issues… foreign investors need protection and we’re making decisions that are required to improve the business environment to attract FDI flows,” he told this correspondent recently.

Ms Sunny said the demand for high-end electronic goods was growing in the country as Pakistani consumers became more aware of global brands and technology. “For the last few years, the market has been shifting towards bigger-sized panels and smart and 4K TVs. This is a positive development for our company because we already have a strong presence in this market.”

TV sales by different foreign and local brands, for instance, are believed to be around 1.2m a year. Their demand is growing at an annual rate of 10-12pc.

“Pakistan is a tough market, but has a lot of potential. We think Pakistan’s TV sales volume should have been three to four times bigger than its current size given the country’s large population. In view of this potential, we are looking for increasing our presence in this market and introduce our white goods and mobile phones,” she said.

She was hopeful about a spike in the demand of electronic goods in Pakistan once economic growth picked up pace and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor completed. “Going forward, we are hopeful that the problems (facing foreign investors) will be taken care of and an environment conducive for doing business created.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 3rd, 2018

As industry falters, Pakistan’s lack of policy comes to light

December 3, 2018
In this photograph taken on November 16, 2016, Pakistani workers operate a machine at a textile factory in Faisalabad. — AFP
In this photograph taken on November 16, 2016, Pakistani workers operate a machine at a textile factory in Faisalabad. — AFP

“I am not aware of any progress on this count. If something is happening I am not in the loop,” Azhar Ali Choudhry, federal secretary industries told Dawn. He called again to inform that the country never had an industrial policy.

“According to information I was able to gather, in later half of 2000 a draft was developed and circulated but then the government of the time fell and the process stalled abruptly. The soft copy of that draft is not available. We will send the printed version soon,” he stated.

This oversight does not appear to be an accident. The economy is beset by rent-seeking resulting in rampant inefficiencies. In the process the nascent industry is barely surviving in a hostile environment

Another senior bureaucrat pointed out that the responsibility of industrial development has been vested with the provinces after the eighteenth amendment. “In 2016 we heard that KP announced an industrial policy. We do not know if it was implemented or not,” he said.

Razak Dawood, advisor to the prime minister who publicly vowed to promote the corporate sector’s ‘Make in Pakistan’ vision, promised input on the subject but his views did not reach the paper within the deadline.

“A coherent, overarching industrial policy will serve to expand the manufacturing base. It may also loosen the grip of brokers and trade agents on the economy who were instrumental in stunting the country’s natural pace of growth,” commented a retired bureaucrat who served in both the ministries of industries and commerce.

This oversight does not appear to be an accident. The economy is beset by rent seeking resulting in rampant inefficiencies. The current state of confusion repelled serious industrial investors and perpetrated the trend of jobless low growth. A conscious effort can arrest the alarming situation.

It is evident that the country’s expanding market has served overseas manufacturers better. Imported consumer items are not just stacked on supermarket shelves, roadside shacks and roaming sellers depend on cheap supplies dumped in wholesale markets across the country. Trade partners particularly China, Japan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Bangladesh have capitalised on easy access to Pakistani markets both legally and through parallel channels.

“Flawed policies corrupted the business class of the country that became risk averse, demanding guaranteed profits. This class adhered religiously to the notion of privatising gains and socialising losses,” commented an economist.

“In Pakistan the industry that has surmounted difficulties of unjust competition without the requisite policy support from the government has been penalised for its success. It has been unjustifiably burdened with taxes. It ends up contributing about 60 per cent of taxes collected when its share in the GDP is miniscule (13.6pc) unlike that of agriculture (19pc) and services (60pc). The collective contribution of all other sectors to the public kitty is less than what manufacturing chips in,” said a tycoon requesting anonymity.

In the process the nascent industry (toy, plastic, ceramic, engineering, textiles, tyre and tubes, footwear, etc.) is barely surviving in a hostile environment.

It is not surprising that instead of expanding over the last two decades, under the watch of three successive governments, the manufacturing base has actually shrunk. The share of industry to GDP has dipped from 17.5pc in 2005 to 13.6pc in 2018.

One consequence for the dip was the further sidelining of the country in global market. Pakistan’s share in world exports shrunk further from a measly 0.16 twenty five years back to 0.12 currently. The situation becomes all the more depressing when compared to the performance of peer countries (Vietnam and Bangladesh) in Asia, according to the data shared in a document by the Pakistan Business Council (PBC).

The depression in the manufacturing sector changed the composition of exports. Instead of switching to value added goods the country ended up exporting more unprocessed goods. It fetched a low price for high volumes and enabled competitors in the region to beat us down in the value added category on the strength of importing cheap raw material from us. The performance of Bangladesh in textiles is a case in point.

The PBC has articulated the position of the corporate sector of Pakistan. They have persistently been warning about the premature deindustrialisation in the country. Adopting a ‘Make in Pakistan’ theme, they prepared and circulated a proposed industrial policy draft. The document identified three key success metrics of an industrial policy: job creation, value addition and import substitution.

The enablers listed for successful implementation of the policy include: fiscal policy reforms, Tariff reforms, reassessment and renegotiation of trade pacts, foreign direct investment policy, corporatisation and consolidation, workers training and focus on small and medium enterprises.

They argued the promotion of a labour intensive industry (textile, agriculture, engineering, petrochemical, IT, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, ceramic, footwear, furniture and mining) to absorb the unemployed youth.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 3rd, 2018

Brainwashing our kids is dangerous (Unless they are literate, young people can become a liability)

November 24, 2018

AT my age, few things shock me anymore. Over the years, I have seen enough horrors to harden me against most of the terrible things we do to each other.

But a short video clip that did the rounds on social media recently almost made my stomach turn. The brief film showed a few boys around seven or eight years old hanging a doll, shouting: “Aasia Bibi has been hanged!” The video concluded with the giggling kids chanting “Labbaik!”

Bt Irfan Husain

I have no idea if the boys had been coached by their elders to play this gruesome charade for the camera, or whether they had thought of it on their own. In either case, the video is a telling reminder — if one was needed — of how far we have sunk as a society. Among the many awful things we have done to Pakistani children is the systematic brainwashing we have subjected them to.

Ignatius Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, as the militant Catholic group was called, is supposed to have claimed: “Give me the child for the first seven years, and I will give you the man.”

Unless they are literate, young people can become a liability.

Operating on this principle, Gen Zia overloaded school curricula with Arabic and religious content during his baneful military rule. His acolytes in many religious parties have continued dragging children in state schools along this ruinous path ever since.

Image result for children in pakistan, photos

But not only are curricula full of xenophobic content, our schools themselves are hardly conducive to learning. On any given day, one out of five teachers are not in their classrooms; 65 per cent of government schools have no boundary walls; 55pc are located in dilapidated, often unsafe, structures; 55pc have no toilets, a great deterrent for girls wishing to study; and 64pc have no running water.

And this is the state of affairs when some 23 million kids — or 44pc of the school-going population — are out of school. So when Pakistani leaders boast — as Imran Khan did in Shanghai recently — of our “vibrant, youthful” population, they forget to mention the vast numbers with no education.

Apart from the children working and begging across the country, some 3.5m are estimated to be enrolled in our mushrooming madressahs. Here, they learn the scriptures parrot-fashion, with little or no emphasis on the tolerance and compassion that is at the heart of all great religions. Who would employ them on graduation, and what are they qualified for that would give them meaningful careers?

Add to these dismal facts the polluted water and inadequate diet available to the vast majority of Pakistani children, and you begin to get a picture of the criminal neglect we are guilty of. Our leaders keep saying they want to learn from China. Well, lesson number one is that despite its backwardness until the 1990s, the country’s Communist Party focused on education and health. As a result, it has a literate and healthy workforce. We, on the other hand, have consistently failed our children.

Politicians like to claim that young people are an asset. Actually, unless they can read and write, they can become a liability. In this age of high-tech equipment and integrated supply chains, the inability to read instructions is a great drawback.

But socially and politically, the worst thing we have done to our children is to allow the most retrograde elements in society to take control of their education. Those rampaging in cities across the country recently against the Aasia Bibi judgement were clearly underemployed: who can take time out from regular work to spend day after day on violent street protests?

Some years ago, Herald published the results of a poll about changing social and religious attitudes among young men and women. The overwhelming majority supported the most backward interpretation of religious attitudes and punishments. Now many of Zia’s spiritual children are parents, and their kids are imbibing their values.

Clearly, then, Ignatius Loyola’s dictum has been learned and internalised by our clerics. Realising the importance of education as a tool to brainwash the young, they have firmly resisted any changes to school curricula that would bring them in line with modern requirements. Politicians and generals have caved in to these pressures time after time.

So when Imran Khan and his economic team talk about increasing exports and give Malaysia’s and China’s success as examples, they forget that both countries have literacy rates way beyond ours. If Bangladesh can raise its literacy rate to 72pc, we need to ask ourselves why we fail to educate our children.

Even the kids who do make it to school receive a substandard education. Indeed, the irony is that in a country with so much unemployment, it is difficult to find qualified candidates for high-tech jobs like the IT sector. And yet whistling up mobs to take the streets is no problem at all.

So Zia has the last laugh after all.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018


Brussels rejects Italy budget, paves way for sanctions

November 21, 2018


Brussels officially rejected Italy’s big-spending budget on Wednesday, clearing the path for unprecedented sanctions and deepening a bitter row with Rome’s populist government.

The conclusion by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, was harsh but expected, coming just weeks after it had sent back Italy’s 2019 budget, in a historic first for the bloc.

Italy refused to back down after the Brussels ultimatum, setting the stage for Wednesday’s final opinion that deplored “a marked backtracking” by Rome on past reforms.

“With what the Italian government has put on the table, we see a risk of the country sleepwalking into instability,” Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference in Brussels.

© AFP | The EU is playing hardball with Italy over spending

“We conclude that the opening of a debt-based excessive deficit procedure is… warranted,” he added, referring to the EU’s official process to punish member states for over-spending.

The coalition government, made up of Salvini’s League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), insists the budget will help kickstart growth in the eurozone’s third largest economy and reduce debt.

But the EU says the Italian budget abandons belt-tightening for a spending spree that includes a basic monthly income for the unemployed and a pension boost.

With its opinion, EU member states now have two weeks to decide whether to allow the commission to trigger the excessive deficit procedure, a months-long process that could lead to fines.

Once activated, the process allows Rome the opportunity to negotiate and correct its ways before Brussels can inflict a sanction of up to 0.2 percent of Italy’s GDP.

Few in Europe expect that Italy’s populist coalition will concede on the matter, at least until European elections next May, where the government hopes to ride a wave of anti-EU sentiment.

“Has the EU letter arrived? I am also waiting for Santa Claus,” said the far-right deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, adding: “We will respond to the EU in an educated way.”

– Eyes on markets –

All eyes now are on the markets, which could raise the pressure on Rome to kowtow to Brussels,and even split the ruling coalition in Italy.

“While the government’s stance may be tenable in the short and medium-term, it will only be sustainable if market conditions don’t deteriorate significantly,” said Mujtaba Rahman, a political analyst at Eurasia Group.

The closely-watched “spread” — the difference between yields on 10-year Italian government debt compared with those in benchmark Germany — reached 316 basis points Wednesday, down from 326 late on Tuesday.

It has more than doubled since May when negotiations to form the coalition government in Rome began, but is lower than the roughly 400 mark that Italy argues is the danger zone.

In its budget, Italy intends to run a public deficit of 2.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019 — three times the target of the government’s centre-left predecessor — and one of 2.1 percent in 2020.

Brussels forecasts Italy’s deficit will reach 2.9 percent of GDP in 2019 and hit 3.1 percent in 2020 — breaching the EU’s 3.0 percent limit.

But Italy’s big spending boost received a vouch of support from the OECD, the Paris-based organisation of developed countries.

“Does (the draft budget) question the sustainability of debt today? We don’t think so. It is stabilising at its level,” OECD chief economist Laurence Boone said.

“Obviously, there should not be a shock to growth, but for the time being (the debt) is stabilising.”




Unless Trump wants to be a one-term president, he has a lot of work yet to do

November 21, 2018

President Trump did defy history in the 2018 midterm elections. While his predecessor, Barack Obama, lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in his first midterms, Trump held the GOP’s House losses to just over half of that and bolstered the GOP majority in the Senate. The combination of a Senate map that heavily favored Republicans, and Trump’s success in turning out his 2016 base, produced a red wall that held up pretty well against the blue wave.

By Marc A. Thiessen

But there are also warning signs in the results that Trump should not ignore. While the working-class voters Trump won in 2016 turned out in droves on Election Day, Republicans were decimated in higher-income suburban Republican districts — including many that voted solidly for Mitt Romney in 2012.

These losses are self-inflicted wounds. The economy is booming: Under Trump’s leadership, economic growth in the second quarter was 4.2 percent, and the unemployment rate has reached 3.7 percent — a nearly 50-year low. Yet Trump’s approval rating on the eve of the 2018 election was 39 percent, the worst for any president since before Dwight D. Eisenhower. By contrast, Obama had 46 percent approval before his first midterms, at a time when unemployment was soaring at almost 10 percent.

The problem is that Trump has failed to do what every successful two-term president has done before him: expand his base of support. Instead of trying to win over persuadable Americans and bring them into his coalition, the president has sought to energize his base in ways that drive those persuadable voters — particularly suburban women — away.

President Trump on Nov. 16 at the White House. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

If he wants to win reelection, Trump needs to bring suburban Republican voters back into the GOP fold. In 2016 he won the suburbs by five points. This gave him the margin of victory in key swing states: In Pennsylvania, he took the overwhelming majority of the state’s rural areas and small towns, while Hillary Clinton won the urban areas around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But, as a Post analysis explained, “What made the difference in the end was a Republican shift across much of the state’s suburbs” which “was large enough to carry Trump to a statewide victory of less than one percentage point.” It was a similar story in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. If Trump wants a second term, he needs to win those suburban GOP voters back.

There is no need for Trump to choose between energizing his base and expanding it. He can do both by using the presidential bully pulpit to reach out to those who disagree with him. For example, suburban voters constantly hear from the left that Trump is a racist, and no one wants to vote for a bigot. But during the 2016 campaign, Trump reached out to African American voters, visiting a black church in Detroit and delivering a major speech in Charlotte in which he promised black Americans, “Whether you vote for me or not, I will be your greatest champion.” He’s delivering on that promise. African American unemployment reached its lowest rate on record. Trump’s tax reform included “Opportunity Zones” to revitalize struggling low-income communities. He’s fighting for school choice and recently announced his support for bipartisan criminal-justice reform.

So why doesn’t Trump visit a black church and say: “I promised to fight for you whether you voted for me or not, and that is exactly what I am doing”? His African American support has increased from about 8 percent of voters in 2016 to about 14 percent in a poll earlier this year. There is no reason it shouldn’t go higher. And millions of persuadable suburban voters would be watching his outreach and would be more likely to support to a president who fights for everyone, including those who don’t support him.

Such outreach would be a start toward a broader change in tone. The best policies in the world won’t gain traction with suburban voters unless the president’s tenor become less bombastic and his administration less chaotic. Trump can win back voters who fled the GOP coalition in 2018 if he chooses to, and doing so does not have to come at the expense of tending to his blue-collar base. But time is running short. The longer he waits, the more impressions of the president harden, the less persuadable these voters become — and the more likely it is that Trump will end up a one-term president.

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Northern Iraq May Be Free, but the South Is Seething

November 10, 2018

In Iraq: Winning the war, Losing the peace

The world has focused on rebuilding the country’s north after defeating the Islamic State while ignoring festering resentment and poverty in Basra.

Iraqi protesters watch an official building in flames as they demonstrate against the government and the lack of basic services in Basra on Sept. 6. (Haidar Hohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi protesters watch an official building in flames as they demonstrate against the government and the lack of basic services in Basra on Sept. 6. (Haidar Hohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

BASRA, Iraq—Recent violent protests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra have brought to light years of suffering by Iraqis in what is known as the economic capital of Iraq due to its vast oil reserves and deep-sea port access connecting the country to the international market. Basra, a predominantly Shiite city, also has a significant minority population, including black Iraqis and Christians. It is Iraq’s second-largest city and has developed a reputation for fostering some of Iraq’s greatest artists. During the first Gulf War, the Iraqi military used Basra as a route for the Kuwait invasion; ironically, a decade later, U.S.-led forces used it as a path toward Baghdad during the 2003 invasion.

The current crisis in Basra is not a recent development. It stems from years of inattention from both the international community and the Iraqi government.

The current crisis in Basra is not a recent development. It stems from years of inattention from both the international community and the Iraqi government.

Increased civil unrest in the region has been exacerbated by the government’s focus on defeating the Islamic State in northern Iraq and unequal distribution of resources, making the current situation both expected and preventable. Basra’s once glorious canals, winding through a city previously known as the Venice of the Middle East, are now open-air sewers.

Following successful military operations against the Islamic State, most of the international focus has been on celebrating the liberation of northern Iraq and reconstruction of these areas. With most national and international attention focused on reconciling Iraq’s diverse communities in these liberated areas, Iraq’s predominantly Shiite southern cities have been neglected and their relative stability taken for granted.

Demonstrations and ensuing clashes with government security forces throughout this summer led to 27 deaths by the end of September, as well as the unsolved assassination of the women’s rights and anti-corruption activist Soad al-Ali. These protests, reflecting Iraqi anger about government corruption, also highlighted the lack of job opportunities and poor public services in the southern city. The protests not only targeted Iraqi officials but also foreign powers for their perceived role in supporting ineffective kleptocratic elites, with attacks on both the U.S. and Iranian consulates in Basra.

More than 80 percent of Iraq’s total GDP comes from the oil-rich area around Basra, which, being Iraq’s only province with coastal access, is also the country’s only port for exporting oil by sea. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Iraq’s oil resources are located in Basra province, the budget allocated for the region by the central government doesn’t reflect that wealth.

Indeed, the Iraqi government and the international community have neglected the region while disproportionately focusing development assistance in northern Iraq. The south’s security situation is deteriorating, and poverty levels are rising as a result. This is particularly worrying because many young southerners who fought to defeat the Islamic State are now destitute.

The Old City suburb of Basra (Al-Basra al-Qadima), Iraq, seen on March 1, is a residential area home to many cultural institutions such as Basra’s writing and arts clubs. The neighborhood was one of the wealthier parts of Basra but has fallen into disrepair following lack of investment after the 2003 war. (Ahmed Twaij for Foreign Policy)

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq temporarily served as a uniting force, with many Iraqis in the south concerned by the threat posed by the terrorist group. This concern famously triggered the call for volunteer fighters by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric—a call answered principally by the predominantly Shiite youths of Iraq’s southern cities, who made up the majority of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

Image result for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq, photos

These heavily armed, trained, and experienced fighters are now returning to their home cities in southern Iraq, including Basra, to face deprivation. Confounded by international and local calls for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, these former fighters, having risked their lives to fight the Islamic State, are now being left jobless and sometimes homeless

Confounded by international and local calls for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, these former fighters, having risked their lives to fight the Islamic State, are now being left jobless and sometimes homeless

as Iraq’s debilitated economy is unable to continue providing salaries for an expanding security sector. Their situation threatens ongoing stability in Iraq. And their grievances are aggravated by the fact that reconstruction and redevelopment funds are being directed only toward the land that they risked their lives to liberate.

In this Tuesday, September 4, 2018 file photo, protesters try to storm the governor's building during protests demanding better public services and jobs, in Basra, Iraq. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

In this Tuesday, September 4, 2018 file photo, protesters try to storm the governor’s building during protests demanding better public services and jobs, in Basra, Iraq. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

The United Nations Development Program, in the first quarter of 2018, dedicated upwards of $153 million toward northern Iraq, with similar programs focused on these liberated areas by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Britain’s Department for International Development, and other international actors. Similarly, a lack of development opportunities and governmental corruption prior to 2014 in Mosul and the surrounding areas resulted in the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq.



I’m a ‘Never Trumper.’ I’m still voting Republican on Tuesday

November 2, 2018

As a confirmed “Never Trumper,” I would be thrilled, if there were no other considerations, to see Donald Trump’s Republican Party get blitzed in these elections and Trump therefore be humiliated.

But there are indeed other considerations. This election is not about Trump. For the best governance of this great land for the next two years, I would vote for a Republican for almost every federal office, anywhere in the country, on this year’s ballot.

For Senate races, the choice would be easy. The Senate votes on judicial nominations, and Republicans consistently vote for responsible, constitutionalist judges. Democrats don’t.

By Quin Hillyer
The Washington Examiner

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Chuck Schumer

The Democrats’ judiciary is one in which Little Sisters of the Poor would be forced to stop their ministry to poor people; free speech is not an inherent right but only a privilege to be “ doled out” by the government; government can force people out of their homes for the benefit of big corporations; government can force people to buy health insurance they don’t want; Asian-Americans are treated as second-class citizens; conservative Latinos are barred from office; and the presumption of innocence can be sacrificed for political purposes.

Democrats in the Senate also lead their party ever-more leftward, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., – one of the most extreme liberals in office today – as their leader, and far-left Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, as their rising stars.

Image result for Cory Booker, photos

Cory Booker

The Senate, though, is almost certainly going to remain in Republican hands. The biggest fight is for control of the House. On a macro level, this is hugely important.

First, if Democrats control the House, there is virtually no chance Congress will spend two years wrestling with legislation addressing needs of the public. Instead, the New York Times reports Democrats are planning for political revenge, with a blitzkrieg of “investigations into nearly every corner of the Trump administration.” Large numbers of House Democrats are likely to push for impeachment either of Trump or, following Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s lead, of newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

It doesn’t matter that, with the Senate probably firmly in Republican hands, there would be no chance of securing the two-thirds vote needed there to remove either one from office. The very effort to impeach would dominate House activity and headlines, further ratchet up a toxic political atmosphere, detract from any ability to handle even the most basic legislation, and cause political and cultural instability that could shake the U.S. economy and undermine the country’s international standing.

Even apart from the prospect of those ever-more-horrid political battles, the policy implications of a Democratic House, especially in the form of missed opportunities, likely would be dire. It has long been my contention that the next two years will see the United States reach the tipping point where dangerous debt levels turn into catastrophic ones. While Trump and a GOP Congress have been just as awful together on this front as were Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2009-10, Trump now is pushing hard for fiscal discipline (finally!).

There is no way on Earth that a Democratic House, with the constitutional power of the purse, will agree to such discipline. But there is at least a chance that a Republican House, following the lead of a president of its own party, will.

Likewise, Trump’s important deregulatory efforts will remain solely the subject of executive orders or enforcement choices, rather than implemented into actual legislation, if Democrats take the House. So too with literally hundreds of reformist, House Republican-sponsored bills that actually enjoy reasonable levels of support from Democrats that, with a few more Republican Senate members, might overcome Senate filibusters – but those bills will never be re-passed in a House led by Democrats.

They include, for example, a bill to help low-income people find entry-level jobs, and another to save local jobs dependent on the “franchisee” model of business especially prevalent in the food service industry.

In short, there are plenty of ways that another Republican-led Congress can pass constructive (and not terribly ideological, much less divisive) legislation – but very few, if any, that a Democratic-led House, with other priorities, will ever work with a GOP Senate and president to pass anything worthwhile.

Yes, Trump will still be Trump. From my standpoint, that’s awful. But as enticing as it might be to put a crimp in his ego by hanging electoral defeat on his Republican allies, it would be counterproductive to do so. A Democratic House is a recipe for pitched political warfare without accomplishment. That’s not something this “Never Trumper” can support.

Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner, and is the author of “The Accidental Prophet” trilogy of recently published satirical, literary novels.