My name is Michael and I’m a Remoaner.
So the news this week that the UK government has informed the President of the European Council of Ministers that they wish to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and leave the European Union was something of a disappointment.
Not that they really had much choice in the matter. Last year’s referendum came up with the result that a majority of British voters want to Leave, which rather means that the government is obliged to go through the process of negotiating Brexit. If the government had not initiated the process, they would have been guilty of defying the verdict of the majority, which is a little contrary to ideals of democracy.
So the issue now is what sort of divorce settlement can be agreed, if any. We Remoaners expect that the deal will be appalling for the country, and our view is that even if it isn’t completely appalling, we should have a referendum before accepting the deal anyway.
The Brexiteers remind me of the Republicans and healthcare. They have to repeal and replace the European Communities Act, effectively, but they don’t have a common view of what the replace bit should look like, let alone what it can look like given that they need to get 27 other governments to agree to it. However, the British Conservative Party is a considerably more disciplined outfit than the US Republican Party: they will be able to hammer something out which none of them like but which they will vote for.
The government says that they will not hold a second referendum, but it seems to me that Mandy Rice-Davies applies. They can’t go into the negotiations having already conceded that what they’re saying with the implied “or else” that comes with each demand is empty. They need to maintain a united front and negotiate the best possible deal — anything else would be a dereliction of duty.
I am extremely skeptical that they will be able to conclude the negotiations in the prescribed timescale. Indeed, the PM’s letter makes it pretty clear that they do not expect that the end state will be reached on March 29, 2019 because she makes mention of transitional periods to avoid catastrophic shocks rather than orderly evolution.
But for the next year or so, everyone important on both sides is going to at least pretend that things are going according to plan, however happy or sad they are that it has come to this. The first few skirmishes by public statement have already caused some kerfuffle, and no doubt a few more will explode in the next few weeks, but trying to protest is going to be met with “we’re still negotiating”.
And that’s the problem. We’re now in limbo. There are the wildly optimistic claims of the Brexiteers and the doom’n’gloom stuff from the Remoaners, neither of which are anywhere near to being verifiable at this point in the proceedings.
The minor advantage of this limbo period is that it gives the Labour Party a chance of coming up with a convincing line on the subject and to start campaigning on it. Whether they can expand their policy platform beyond “Jeremy Corbyn should be Leader of the party” remains to be seen, although the last six months certainly suggests that it’s the only thing most of them care about, so I doubt that the main oppostion party is going to bother to oppose the government in any meaningful way.
I am very pessimistic about what’s going to happen, but there isn’t much that anyone on either side of the argument can usefully do until we start getting some concrete results out of the negotiating process.
For understandable reasons, the above topic dominates the European press, but there is still a little room for reporting and analysing the doings of the Occupant (h/t Chitown Kev) of the Orange House.
I’ve skimmed a number of pieces about Russiagate, but they don’t add a lot. They mainly consist of summarizing what’s appearing in WaPo/NYT/WSJ/CNN and other outlets, along with explanations of who Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff are and what they have to do with the price of fish.
On the other hand, they have taken a great deal of notice of what the Occupant has said this week about climate change.
It’s fair to say that not a lot of people are impressed. But quite a lot are Trump-skeptics who think that his power in these matters is somewhat limited. For instance, here’s a leading article from Le Monde:
“This is the end of the coal war ,” said Donald Trump, simply canceling the Clean Power Plan measure. He did so in the name of a policy of job creation and energy independence. This decision should preserve some 100,000 jobs in the mining industry. For a very short term only. For the future of coal appears to be compromised by a force which happily out-influences the regressive tropes of Mr. Trump: the market. As Total’s boss, Patrick Pouyanné, recalled this week to Le Monde , the US is experiencing a revolution related to gas and shale oil . At less than $ 20 a barrel in production costs, gas is substituted for coal, which is less and less competitive to generate electricity.
But Mr. Trump will not stop there. In a kind of rage of pre-teen destruction, he intends to demolish the objectives set for the reduction of automobile pollution , the preservation of water quality in the United States, in short to make meaningless what Obama has accomplished . He wants to reduce the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 30%, which he has given to a former lawyer who belongs to the fundamentalist climate wing, Scott Pruitt. Will President Trump go so far as to denounce the Paris climate agreement? In any case, he can undermine its substance, in particular by refusing to pay to the countries of the South the financial assistance that the United States has undertaken to provide to help them in the energy transition.
In the United States, Mr. Trump will have to face a “civil society” (big cities , states, companies , associations) that wants to block the action of the White House. From California to New York, the battle for clean energy is being led by mayors and governors who are convinced of the disastrous effects of global warming on human health and the future of the planet. Thus, in a democratic society, the market and the “civil society” are defeating the irresponsibility of the Head of State. So much the better.
Christoph Siedler ploughs a neighboring furrow:
Of course they will come out of their holes again. They will praise him for his courage, for telling — as they see it – the truth and acting accordingly. They will again claim that climate change is not or only minimally caused by humans. That government interventions on climate protection are hurting individual taxpayers. That climate scientists can only secure their jobs through loud warning calls. And so on.
Environmentalists will criticize Trump’s announcements with harsh words. And indeed, the whole thing is not good news for the world climate. The world is currently not on course to reach the two-degree goal in climate protection . The Trump government makes it even more difficult with its “America-First Energy Policy”. It remains unclear whether the US will leave the Paris Climate Change Convention.
But perhaps Trump’s announcement is not the disaster it might sound like at first. There are a number of reasons for this:
- International climate protection is no longer necessarily dependent on the fact that the USA is taking part. China, by far the largest CO2 issuer, has long played a more important role….
- Individual US states like California have long recognized the importance of climate protection….
- Industry has long been no longer a brake on climate protection. Around 900 companies have publicly asked Trump to stick to the climate agreement ….
- A clear majority of US voters argue for a strong US commitment to the climate….
Trump will not be able to change these things. He can only send a signal. A signal to the eternal yesterday. And for all others out there, who are keen to protect the climate, the following applies: keep going!
But perhaps we’re all missing the point here. Sacha Batthyany has a perceptive piece about what’s really happening:
Donald Trump is about symbolism. In mid-week, when he signed his decree stopping Barack Obama’s plans to reduce greenhouse emissions, he had a dozen coal workers around him. “I love these people,” said the President. And when he greeted every one of them with a firm handshake, it seemed as if he wanted to shake the hand of all the workers in their country, strong folks from rural districts, good Americans in dirty-sprayed pick-ups. They are Trump’s political backbone, and he knows that.
…In contrast to the Republican Party, the doubts about climate change are less widespread in the American population. According to a study by Yale University, 70% of respondents believe that future generations will suffer from the effects of global warming. Nowhere is the percentage of clowns as high as under the dome of US capitols, say experts, because many dance to the millions-heavy tune of the oil industry.
Whether President Trump’s skepticism is fed by the oil lobby, however, is questionable. It is not even sure if he actually believes in his words “to breathe new life into coal.” Trump is about the votes. What happens with the climate seems to be a side issue for the President. After him the Flood.
But in Trump’s climate politics is his populism is most evident. And so it will perhaps not bother him if his midweek decree gets tangled up with judicial judgments and blockades by Democrats, as people all over the place think will happen. He can tell his voters that he has tried everything, but he has been stuck in Washington’s political swamp, which he really wanted to dry up.
If, however, his supporters note that Trump can not keep his promises, and the renaissance of the coal does not occur at all, he loses his last support. Trump skates, to continue with the climate jargon, on thin ice.
In Svenska Dagbladet, Claes Arvidsson develops the theme a bit:
In the latest issue of the American magazine Time graced the cover of the issue Is truth dead? The issue is the introduction to an exclusive interview with Donald Trump with his at least problematic relationship to the truth – about himself and others – as a starting point. The own ego hype. Obama’s birth certificate, Hillary pedophile pizza, wiretaps Trump Tower and so on. Everything passed on twitter cascades.
Though none of what Trump is doing is unique.
… [Interesting digression on such Presidents as van Buren and Lincoln]
So, then, nothing new under the sun? One difference is of course that Time directs the question to the US president. It makes Trump unique. But the question is relevant.
Trump may rather suggest the philosopher Harry G Frankfurt “On Bullshit” (Princeton University Press, 2005). For the real “bullshit machine” whether something is true or false does not matter. The core, for the bullshit artist, is instead saying it needed to be said to achieve his underlying goals.
In this perspective, it is natural that Trump has declared war on the media which aren’t described as “alternative” – and the battle goes on through the financial assault on the public service. Trump would like to get rid of support to government television and radio channels PBS and NPR (like the National Endowment for the Arts). The article in Time, however, is an example of how counter-force is growing.
But. While Trump is Trump, he is also a man of our time. An era of skepticism to the pursuit of objective knowledge and where what matters instead has become his ownversion of the truth. Something Frankfurt says, is real bullshit.
And, it might be added, the soil in which fake news grows so fast.
Of course, he has now declared war on elements of the Republican Party as well as the MSM. Frédéric Autran thinks this is a bit risky.
War is declared in the Republican camp. And Donald Trump fired the first shot. Furious after the failure of the health reform , withdrawn last week due to lack of majority in the Republican ranks, the American president attacked some members of his own party on Thursday. On Twitter, he promised to ” fight ” the ultraconservatives of the Freedom Caucus, at the origin of the political fiasco on health, if the latter did not enter the ranks. ” The Freedom Caucus will hurt the whole Republican program if they do not join the team, and quickly. We must fight them, and the Democrats, in 2018! “Wrote the billionaire.
For Donald Trump, this strategy of confrontation is perilous. Thursday night, raising a notch the pressure, he specifically called out three Republican Reps on Twitter. While such an approach may appeal to fans of Trump’s outspokenness, it may also further unify the members of the Freedom Caucus. Some of them have advised Donald Trump to focus on the merits. ” The way to get votes in Congress is not to insult. It is to have better bills that better reflect the will of the American people , “said Mo Brooks, Rep from Alabama.
That is the whole challenge of Barack Obama’s successor: he is not an ideologist and certainly not an ultra-conservative, either fiscally or morally. Some of his campaign promises – such as the $ 1 trillion investment plan for infrastructure – are viewed with skepticism by the most rigid Republicans, obsessed with controlling public spending and debt reduction. There is also no consensus on tax reform, a new project undertaken by the White House.
Taken in the midst of these divisions, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, tries painfully to tighten the ranks of his majority. Asked about the president’s aggressive remarks, he said ” understand and share the president’s frustration, ” while inviting Republican parliamentarians to ” keep talking .” Otherwise, he warned, Donald Trump might be tempted to turn actively to the Democratic camp, notably to re-launch the discussions on health. ” I do not want this to happen ,” said Paul Ryan in an interview with CBS. The remarks were immediately criticized by a Republican senator who denounced Ryan’s rejection of any bipartisan effort. In the ranks of the Grand Old Party, the bullets are definitely fired from everywhere.
Martin Kilian agrees:
The joy of so much political power lasted only briefly: since Thursday civil war reigns in Donald Trump’s Republican party, as the aftermath of the Republican Obamacare fiasco threatens Trumps further agenda. The President evidently feels hurt by the blockade tactics of the Republican Concrete Fraction in the House of Representatives, and staff report that Trump is extremely angry.
“We must fight the right-wing extremes,” Trump officially opened the fight with a tweet on Thursday. According to him, the rebellious hardliners are to lose their seats with the aid of opposing candidates at primary elections in 2018 and to be replaced by more loyal representatives.
Trumps leader Steve Bannon had previously presented the president with the idea of putting the deviants on an internal “shitlist” and proceeding against them. The president and his consigliere probably will not get far: most of the concretists come from artificially composed congress districts that are so conservative that the deputies have little to fear.
Here’s an interesting piece by Helmut Däuble in taz:
Since Donald Trump’s speech before Congress, there seems to have been little calm in the public debate. Time to look at how a part of the liberal public has perceived him so far: It is striking that people who otherwise do not omit any opportunity to plead for freedom of violence are facing him with the threat of violence in recent months.
For example, Madonna on the “women’s march” on the day after Trump’s inauguration promised to blow up the White House, and Peter Sloterdijk recently whispered that Trump’s chance “to survive the first two years of his term were hardly more than 10 per cent”.
But how can such obscure fantasies be interpreted right up to murder? How can it be that people who are otherwise sensible lead such irrational debates? A central interpretation seems to lie in the present weakness of liberalism: first, it is easy to understand that a feeling of impotence is being expressed here. Power has been won by a person who embodies a political direction that the defenders of a liberal democracy never thought it possible would prevail. It seemed inconceivable that so much unreason could jump[ off the rails and turn into popular vote. Quite a few in the liberal milieu seem to regard this as a disgraceful defeat, from which they flee in assassin fantasies.
Instead of asking what mistakes were made in the past and what political actions were neglected, consolation is sought in individualizing explanatory models and a supposed duty to commit tyranny.
A necessary factual analysis of the causes of such a person’s coming into power, of the interest groups he represents, and of the political counterstrategies now required, will be replaced, at least in part, by unrealistic plans. The dreams of imagining a new Claus von Stauffenberg … resemble the cinematic attempt of a Quentin Tarantino, who, in his masterpiece “Inglourious Basterds”, leads the Nazi movement to hell against all historical reality. These are, so to speak, fake debates, the many liberal losers, if they may be called, serve as a mere relief.
Such substitute acts, which seek their salvation in imagined conspirators, are not only unhelpful, they even reinforce the trend of liberal defensive weakness. Violent fantasies that spin on caesareanism and tyrannical murder do not alter the real problems that are not dependent on one person, but rather on the whole of society. They even evade the energy that would be necessary to prevent about a Marine Le Pen. The passion and energy needed to more clearly recognize democratic deficits and our entanglement in global injustices and to understand how many outsiders have produced a neoliberalized globalization with – even liberal – profiteers, is instead gambled away for brain spins.
But let us not forget that the liberal public is also us. And we should not miss an opportunity to distance ourselves from such violent fantasies and bid them farewell. This means that we should leave behind all the lamentations and instead try to defend ourselves as actively as possible against autocratic and authoritarian movements – also and especially among ourselves.
That he used “neo-liberal” may make you think he’s trotting out the usual “progressive” nonsense, but he isn’t. He is talking much more about a theme Emmanuel Macron touched on in the interview I featured last week when he said that pro-Europeans made a big mistake when they left criticism of the EU to the Europhobes, because even those of us who strongly support the theory of the EU know that the practice leaves something to be desired — the President of the EU Commission recently said that the Commission had got far too involved in micro-decisions and done too little about the big picture.
The Trumps and Farages and Le Pens have got some points on their side: government and supra-government actually isn’t doing a bang-up job of making people’s lives better, and people have a right to be pissed off about it. They then tell a bunch of lies about how they will make lives better and manage to con enough people into believing them for them to win referenda and elections. What liberal democrats have to to is come up with ways in which government and supra-government can make people’s lives better in ways they can appreciate and understand, because even if government is succeeding in making people’s lives better in some ways, people aren’t noticing.
So let’s change the subject slightly. Johanna Bruckner has a look at the report of the Occupant’s staff’s wealth:
Anyone who wanted to know how exclusive the life of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner is, did not have to wait for a report from the White House. On Instagram, the daughter of the US President, who was made an official government adviser by her father this week, willingly shares photos from her private life. The Trump / Kushner couple in evening dress in a room with a chandelier and expensive looking carpet, two of the Trump / Kushner children with flattened noses at a window in the White House, the complete family leaving the Presidential Air Force One. One could get the impression that the new power couple of American politics is more interested in power these days than in money-earning. Recently, both had announced that they would accept unpaid government jobs and put their previous sources of income on hold.
A report from the White House shows that the couple Kushner still has no need to worry about the financial situation. According to the New York Times, the document shows that Trump and Kushner will continue to benefit from real estate and investment worth $ 741 million. Ivanka Trump also holds a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The value is estimated to be between five and 25 million dollars. Specifically, this luxury accommodation is a concern for ethics experts.
Parallel to the White House’s report, the Washington Post published an article that attempts to understand how Bannon became rich. In his accounts, he still has $ 2.25 million, and he owns rental properties worth $ 10.5 million. According to the report, in the 1980s and 1990s the man who is now fighting globalization and demonizing elites was a private investment banker doing business internationally.
Despite his considerable private wealth, Bannon is some millions away from Gary Cohn, formerly number two at Goldman Sachs, now director of the National Economic Council, and one of Trump’s most prosperous employees. According to the report, he has assets between 252 and 611 million dollars.
Some Trump supporters may find it strange or even hypocritical how rich these people are, who have nevertheless been quite different from the Washington elites. But Trump spokesman Sean Spicer has already provided a suitable narrative for the wealth report of the reigning government. At a press conference on Friday, he said, “The President has called a lot of people into his government, to the White House in particular, which has blessed this country very much and has been very successful.” It speaks to the deep motivation of these people to contribute to the implementation of Donald Trump’s political vision that they are ready to undergo these in-depth investigations.
We’ll finish this week with Sarah Ditum’s take on Trump’s speech on Wednesday:
Donald Trump was speaking at a panel on women’s empowerment on Wednesday.
Donald Trump. Women’s empowerment. Really. I wish I was the genius of satire who’d made up something so audacious. At about the same time as lawyers for the president were arguing his power should make him immune to lawsuit from an ‘Apprentice’ contestant who alleges Mr Trump sexually harassed her, the man himself stood on a stage and declared his intention to “make our economy a place where women can work, succeed and thrive like never before.” Good one.
People talk about Mr Trump and the art of the deal, but do they yet recognise his mastery of the art of the gag? Take, for example, this line: “I’m so proud the White House and our administration is filled with so many women of such incredible talent.” It takes a real craftsman of comedy to hang so much on that one word “filled”, because Mr Trump’s administration isn’t actually full of women, by any definition of that word. Of 24 Cabinet members, four are female. Four! As Mr Trump likes to say while soaking up applause for one of his “zingers”, “We didn’t get that on Madison avenue”.
No I don’t know what that expression means either. But then I’m not certain I know what anything means anymore – including the term “women’s empowerment”, which apparently no longer entails giving women any power, including the power to decide whether they want to be pregnant or not.
Donald wasn’t the only Trump speaking on Wednesday. While he was empowering women to dream (as long as they don’t dream of taking him to court), his wife Melania was making a rare appearance, in Washington at the International Woman of Courage Awards. “The time for empowering women is now,” she said. “Wherever women are diminished, the world is diminished.”
It was the best joke in her and her husband’s entire double-act routine on women that day. The time to empower women was November, when America could have elected Hillary Clinton, and nobody in modern politics has done as much to diminish women as Mr Trump.
Enjoy your Sunday.
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