Political Perspective: Breaking Down the Key Issues

The Means Report

It was tough to wait an entire week to do a new edition of The Means Report because so much has been happening in our nation, in our world, and in the state of Georgia, for that matter. So we raced over to Augusta University to bring back our friend, political scientist and associate professor of political at AU, Craig Albert. He’s gonna help us break down several things today. The Mueller Report, just when you thought that issue was resolved, it may not be. Responding to a cyberattack and the emphatic way that Israel did. Also, the United States not messing around when it comes to Iran with its recent carrier response to that nation. We’ll talk about all that and much more with Craig Albert.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, it’s been too long. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me. I love being here.

Brad Means: Well, we love having you and as I mentioned, so much has been going on, I really didn’t know where to begin, I guess we could start with most recent, in recent days we saw the House Judiciary Committee vote to hold our Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt for not showing up to talk more about the Mueller Report. He did so for the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then was absent for the House. Depending on which station you watch, this is either nothing or a big deal. What do you think?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s in between. The attorney generals of past administrations have been held in contempt, including under the Obama administration, so it really depends on what side of the aisle you sit on, how you view that. It really can mean something. Criminal proceedings can be held by the Justice Department against the attorney general when it’s held in contempt by Congress.

Brad Means: So the attorney general can get the attorney general in trouble?

Dr. Craig Albert: The Justice Department can indeed file charges against the attorney general in contempt, and start criminal proceedings. As you imply, it’s highly unlikely that that’s gonna happen in this situation, and that didn’t happen under the Obama administration for the Fast and Furious investigation. Holder was held in contempt by the Republican Committee, and of course, nothing happened from it. So it’s up to the Justice Department to do something with the Congressional proceedings on contempt.

Brad Means: How does it end? Does it end with him in jail? Getting a slap on the wrist? Censured? What happens possibly?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think nothing happens at this point because, of course, it’s a Republican-held White House and Republican-held Justice Department. I don’t think anything will happen with it, except it could bolster calls for impeachment proceedings in the House against Trump, saying, “See, this is how things are happening. You’re not allowed these to be transparent, you’re not allowing things to happen in the way they should happen. So because of this, we’re gonna continue to press ahead with obstruction of justice charges.”

Brad Means: This is probably a better question for the end of the show, ’cause it’s more a summary of things, but when might we see Democrats back off of these attacks on the administration, and focus on the 2020 election? Or can they do both at the same time?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think they’re ever gonna back off of this, I think this is gonna be part of the 2020 election season, so we haven’t heard the last of the Mueller investigation, we haven’t heard the last of the Russia investigation, and now you’ll see, if you read Democratic tweets, or what their saying in committee meetings, it’s moving from a Russia investigation to obstruction of justice. So they just altered what they’re try to charge the president with, so it’s no longer conspiring with Russian entities, it’s obstruction of justice. So through the same Mueller investigation the Democrats are still trying to keep it open to charges of something against Donald Trump, that he’s doing something that’s not in the traditional setting of what a president does, and so we’re gonna continue to hear obstruction charges throughout, especially if Trump seems to be ahead in the polls for 2020.

Brad Means: When it comes to the Mueller Report, the president says this whole thing that you’ve been talking about feels like a redo. The issue was resolved after two years and tens of millions of dollars. Is it a redo or have we not explored every avenue here?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think there are some avenues left to be explored. What I can say in my initial readings of everything is that Trump certainly seems to have obstructed justice, and when I read it, it seems like he unintentionally obstructed justice. So Trump is being Trump, doing things that don’t necessarily fit within out traditional understanding of how a president acts, so he says, “Get me those emails,” to Russia. Did he intend to really ask Russia to do that? I don’t read as that way, and that’s just my political science, objective understanding of the situation. It seems like you have a person whose not used to politics, who gets on the stage as an entertainer, and just says something. So for something to be an obstruction of justice, you have to intend to ill harm, and I don’t think Trump does that, that’s in my opinion.

Brad Means: Your interpretation, yeah, that it was unintentional.

Dr. Craig Albert: Right.

Brad Means: That he was just being him.

Dr. Craig Albert: Exactly.

Brad Means: That’s a major national event then to be sure. It’s dominating our headlines everyday. Internationally, we’re seeing some action, if you will, as well, beginning with Israel. So Israel says Hamas launched a cyber attack on it. Israel responds by blowing up a Hamas building. I don’t know if we’ve seen this before. Have we?

Dr. Craig Albert: We haven’t. This is the first instance in world history of a government responding to a cyber attack with a kinetic attack. Kinetic attack means a shooting war, you know. Something that goes “bang” with bombs, rather than through cyber means. So this is a Pandora’s box. The world was wary of doing this because we didn’t know where it was gonna go or how other nation-states would respond. So this gives the world a brand new array of weapons to respond to cyber attacks, and we were wondering if it would go this way, and now it has. So the Palestinians did cyber attacks against Israel, Israel said they prevented those cyber attacks, but to teach the Hamas a lesson, they responded through missiles and blew up the facilities from which those attacks originated. And so this is the first time we’ve ever seen that. We’re not sure if that’s ethical or just, or how the United States is going to incorporate kinetic response to a cyber attack and to our foreign policy even though we, in our national defense strategy, we say, “We reserve the right to respond through kinetic options,” just like Israel did. That’s been our standing policy under President Trump.

Brad Means: Yeah, but most people probably perceive our cyber war as being just that, something that takes place in cyber space. You hack me, I’ll hack you. Do you think this Israeli response could become some sort of template that makes would-be hackers fearful?

Dr. Craig Albert: No. I think it’s gonna up the ante a little bit. So now we’ll probably see more aggressive, more assertive, more physical cyber attacks. So cyber attacks so far have been malware intrusions. There hasn’t been that many that have actually infected and caused physical destruction to what we call “critical infrastructure systems.” So dams, electrical grids, we have found viruses in there. We’ve had internet exploitation attacks against these facilities, where they shut down different websites, for instance, but nothing really catastrophic that we found malware there. I think now we see, we’re gonna see more destructive, physical attacks, where dams are gonna cease to operate because of a cyber attack. Electrical grids will cease to operate because of a cyber attack, and then the response to those will be further kinetic responses where, “Okay, you wipe out our electrical grid, we’re gonna wipe out yours, but we’re gonna do it with a missile to teach you a lesson.”

Brad Means: Let’s look at what’s happening in North Korea and Venezuela. We’re seeing testing of missiles. What are your thoughts on that, and is it fair to say that some of the progress, especially with North Korea, is being undone right before our eyes, or should we worry that much?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think both leaders are upping the ante a little bit more when it comes to North Korea and Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s not playing around with what he’s asking or demanding from North Korea, and North Korea’s leader is doing the exact same thing, showing steadfast will. He’s launching new short-range medium ballistic missiles as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a backtrack of what’s been going on, but it’s certainly, it doesn’t bode well for the future, and, of course, on Thursday the United States seized the largest coal ship of North Korea, and there’s no telling how North Korea might respond to that. So there’s definitely a racketing up of aggressive behavior by both parties.

Brad Means: I also want to talk about, well, before we move on to China and the tariff situation that’s unfolding, and will unfold, some of it before this broadcast airs, going back to the North Korea situation, I’ve asked you this question before. It’s not a fair fight. I mean it wouldn’t even be close, what does the leader of North Korea stand to gain other than showing the world he’s not scared?

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s not a close fight when it comes to the United States, but North Korea can affect massive damage on South Korea, which is one of our biggest allies in the world. They have a massive array of artillery shells pointed at South Korea, at Seoul. So, in fact, simultaneously would launch 10,000 munitions at Seoul in a minute which could inflict over 100,000 deaths instantaneously. So that’s what we have to be wary about, and also, you know, we have 38,000 military members at the DMZ, and the way we say that in political science, in war studies, it sounds horrible, but it is, is that that’s a speed bump until the rest of our forces could get there. So if North Korea actually invaded South Korea, our 38,000 troops would have to put up a heck of a fight, and so it would be kinda catastrophic, and that could be enough for an autocratic authoritarian leader, who just wants to say, “I did that,” to the United States. So we have to remember that. All he wants to do, all Kim wants to do is look powerful and assert his power, and guarantee his power, and this could be a way to solidify his power for those that don’t believe he should be a powerful leader, his civilian population, those that may dissent, this is a way for him to say, “Look what I can do.”

Brad Means: Yeah. “Look I am strong”

Dr. Craig Albert: Exactly.

Brad Means: When we come back we’re gonna talk about the Chinese/U.S. situation, and is there a trade war unfolding before our very eyes? Both sides threatening tariffs. Talks scheduled as we speak. Plus Iran, should we be afraid of something developing there again? There’s a military response underway as we speak as well. Plus more issues that are in the news and will be made easy to understand with Dr. Craig Albert in a moment.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, talking about international and national events with Dr. Craig Albert, political scientist, associate professor of political science at Augusta University. And we were just sorta criss-crossing the globe, Dr. Albert, before we left. I forgot to talk about Venezuela, which has been a hot spot to say the least, you have massive unrest down there, even bigger inflation that we’re witnessing. Can the U.S. step in and do anything about it?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t know if we can step in. Our forces would not be welcomed there right now, so this has to be solved domestically with the Venezuelans, but just to give the audience some context, their inflation rate is 10 million percent right now, 10 million percent.

Brad Means: That’s insane.

Dr. Craig Albert: Their prices of everything on the shelves in their stores rises, doubles every 21 days. There’s 3.5 million refugees that have left since 2015. U.N. data suggests that that could rise above 5 million by the end of this year alone. That’s hugely catastrophic and destabilizing, not just for Venezuela, but for the region, and they’re not too far away from us, and we’re receiving a lot of those refugees in the United States. We have about 300,000 from Venezuela right now as a direct result of what’s going on with the socialist regime and Maduro. So, this is something we have to be very cautious of because it could cause civil unrest, civil rebellion, and it could potentially lead to civil war if it’s not handled properly, and that is something the United States does not want, period, is a civil war so close to us that would involve so many of our allies.

Brad Means: I mean that sounds apocalyptic. It sounds like something that could close a country, you know, except for really rich people, who are holed up down there. If you’re talking about that kind of unrest, that kind of inflation, this won’t play out til there’s no more Venezuela will it?

Dr. Craig Albert: It could turn into a situation resembling Syria very quickly, as in the destruction of a regime. Of course, with a different type of extremist ideology, there’s no fundamentalist jihadis in Venezuela, of course, but there are hardcore communists, Maduro is a hardcore, rising dictator whose completely corrupt and destroying the infrastructure. The reason the last coup did not happen in Venezuela is because Maduro pays off the high-ranking officers of the military. He gives them kinda the equivalent of stock options, he gives them raises, he doesn’t do the same for the rank-and-file in the military, but for everybody that’s important, that hold’s an important post, he buys them off consistently for their loyalty, so they stay loyal because what else are you gonna do in a country with an inflation rate of 10 million percent? If the president is offering you money or goods, you’re gonna take that and stay loyal to the president. That spells catastrophe if something sparks it.

Brad Means: Let’s go from Venezuela, if we may, over to Iran, which is sorta saying, “Hey. Remember us.” President Trump undid the nuclear deal that President Obama forged with Iran, and now we have a military carrier over there, cruising toward Iran. Are we worried they’re about to do something?

Dr. Craig Albert: We are extremely worried. The intel community has seen something that was very problematic for them, we don’t have access to what that is, but it seems to involve assassination of ambassadors or diplomats stationed over in Iraq and in the Middle East even more so. Perhaps attacks on consulates over in the Middle East, much like we saw perhaps in Benghazi and Libya. That’s my reading of it. Just by the way Director Pompeo has said, Secretary Pompeo has said, “We are going to protect our embassies against any threat.” That leads you to believe that that’s perhaps what the threat was. So it probably wouldn’t be about the Iranian military itself, but through Hezbollah, which, of course, is funded by Iran. So this is something that we have to watch very closely so we sent an entire carrier group over there, and nuclear bombers now are on their way to that area. So this is something to be extremely cautious of, that nobody wants a fight with Iran right now. That would be another catastrophic event, especially for our armed services, of course if it was go to a full confrontation, that’s a war that the United States could win, but it would be a costly war. But something is happening that is worrying out intelligence community.

Brad Means: Maybe I’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies, but would a war against little Iran, just like one was against little Iraq and Afghanistan, be beneficial to President Trump’s re-election chances, showing that strength, handling his business over there?

Dr. Craig Albert: No, it would not be beneficial. Perhaps, only with one caveat. If Iran did go through with something that we could clearly pin to Iran, that we could attribute to them, like they started to, targeted simultaneous assassination attempt, or they did storm embassies, or some bases in Iraq that we own. A strong response would help President Trump, but depending on how far he went with that could hurt him. You have to be measured. America is very war weary right now. What, we’re still in Iraq. We’re still in Afghanistan. We’re in Syria. None of these conflicts are fully solved or resolved the way the United States thought they would be. We don’t need another war. We don’t want another war. So yes, and Iran on being more of an isolationist, you know “America first,” “Let’s fix problems at home,” “Let’s not get entangled in foreign wars.” We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s something to be concerned.

Brad Means: Speaking of “America first,” let’s look at where we stand on immigration right now. You have both sides, really you have Democrats and Republicans trying to craft their own versions of immigration reform. I haven’t heard a ton about the wall lately. I do know that the State of Emergency since we last met was upheld, the emergency declaration, which would allow President Trump to get money to build his wall, build the wall. Where do we stand on immigration, and might we see a resolution there anytime soon, with both sides kinda doing different versions?

Dr. Craig Albert: This will probably ramp up in the next six months as we cruise into my favorite time of the year, or every four years where we get into election season. But the federal appeals court did just uphold this week, a ruling that Trump said those seeking asylum status, would be held and detained in Mexico, rather than in the United States. So that is something to watch out for, so now anybody that comes here seeking asylum could be detained in Mexico and not here. So that’s a big victory for the Trump administration because the way it has been is that they would be released back into the population, into the United States, and then Trump accuses some of our immigration problems on that community for not returning to court for a final process hearing over their asylum status. So Trump has won a victory here, saying, “No, they have to stay in Mexico until that process plays out.” I think it’s the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is traditionally anti-Trump, upheld that decision, but gave some opinions that said it might not stay this way, there’s some things we’re gonna look at when the next court case plays through.

Brad Means: Let’s look at drug prices, hitting topics that have happened again in the time since we last saw each other. This was just in the past few days where we, pretty soon, should be seeing drug prices listed in drug ads. Picture that. You’re looking at magazine or television, and you see an ad for a prescription and you see how much it costs. What do you think about that?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think that’s great that we’ll be able to see that, but just like the ruling this year where your hospital bills have to be itemized, I don’t know if you’ve been to hospital for anything since then, but nobody without extensive medical understanding can read those things. So it’s even more complicated than it was before. I think it’s a step towards transparency, but I would bet those commercials and those ads are gonna hide it in such way, or make it so confusing, or probably with a narrator’s voice that is so fast that you can’t understand that that’s how it’s gonna happen, so this is capitalism. This is the way it works.

Brad Means: Yeah, and you have to be careful as someone said last night. Don’t alienate the pharmaceutical giants too much, ’cause they are working on cures for stuff.

Dr. Craig Albert: It’s a balance. I mean, you know, there’s no reason a Tylenol at the emergency room should cost $200, but at the same time you don’t want to limit their research and development, so this is something that politicians have to be savvy about.

Brad Means: Who do you like, I don’t mean personally, but just political scientist, scientifically, in the Democratic field for president? Whose kinda standing out at this point?

Dr. Craig Albert: I’ve said it for two years since Trump won, the only person on the Democratic side that can beat Donald Trump in the next election is Joe Biden.

Brad Means: That’s it.

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s it. Biden has announced, he look strong in the polls. Biden is good at being able to argue the way Trump argues. He is assertive if not aggressive the same way that Trump is. Biden doesn’t have to act that way, he is that way, and so if you want somebody that can go toe-to-toe, but would perhaps, from an objective political science standpoint, with more policy understanding than Trump demonstrated in the debates in 2015 and 2016. Biden has to be your guy if you’re a Democrat, I think. And people will say, “Well, he’s not progressive enough.” Well, I think if you’re looking at taking back voters who were moderate or independent, or that were even left-leaning, but voted for Trump because of jobs, because of, you know, conservative values or something like that, Biden might be able to win those votes back, especially in the Rust Belt.

Brad Means: Could be some really strong debates between those two. Some fascinating debates.

Dr. Craig Albert: I’m…. I’m speechless.

Brad Means: That’s what you live for.

Dr. Craig Albert: A Biden/Trump debate would be something, I mean, pay-per-view.

Brad Means: Yeah. It… It would get a lot of buys I think. Well we will leave it there, but as you said, ramp up toward 2020, we’ll have you over a lot more, please.

Dr. Craig Albert: Yes, of course.

Brad Means: Alright. Thank you for that. Political scientist, Craig Albert. We appreciate his expertise as always, both here on The Means Report and on our nightly news casts.

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