Return of the British Breakfast

I’ll begin by thanking those of you who knew about my recent health issues and offered good wishes: I’m doing pretty well, considering. Anyway, I’m back.

Today is polling day in Germany, but since I have been otherwise engaged, I haven’t got a detailed handle on the election and will not be providing any punditry on it. What I can say is that most of Germany’s pundits fell asleep about three weeks ago because this has been the most boring election campaign in living memory, and that Angela Merkel’s party is overwhelmingly likely to be the largest in the Bundestag, but since it won’t get an overall majority, it remains to be seen what coalition government will emerge.

So let’s get to the stuff about America. This piece goes back a couple of weeks to when DACA was being discussed, and Sandro Bernini observes POUTS’s unpredictability:

The former German Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer is attributed, probably unjustly, the quotation: “What do I care about my chatter from yesterday?” If there is a politician today who is carefree about this motto, then it is US President Donald Trump . There are many examples of the fact that Trump, from opportunism, cunning, under the impression of political events, or from an impulse with full conviction, asserts the opposite of what he had previously championed as convincingly.

At Reddit, the users, under the title “Trump criticizes Trump”, discuss the President’s astonishing mental capacity for change. For several commentators, this is only to be recorded in quantum physical dimensions. “He has every possible opinion on a topic, and when asked, he chooses one of them according to the random principle,” writes a user with the user Splax77. “This is truly Schrödinger’s President.” The statement is based on the famous thought experiment of the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. It is to apply quantum mechanical concepts to the macroscopic world. Thus Schrödinger creates the paradox that a cat imprisoned in a cage is simultaneously dead and alive.

But if the DACA thing was a bit of a surprise, it would be stretching things to say that anyone was actually surprised by POUTS’s speech to the UN. I expect several (John Kelly obviously among them) had hoped for something different, but I think we got roughly what we expected. The reviews are similarly predictable.

Dorothea Hahn in taz:

It was a brutal speech, the most confrontational ever made by a US president in the United Nations. Trumps’ hostilities were directed not only against “villain states”, but also against the allies of the USA and the United Nations. He transferred his gloomy and catastrophic view of his own country (“American devastation”) to the global level.

Inside the US, Trump’s office  can specify the tone and mood. From the circle of his advisors and ministers – unlike former presidents – hardly any criticism can be heard. Trump expects absolute loyalty. But in the United Nations, he represents only one of 193 members. The US, because of its economic strength, makes the highest membership contributions, but beyond this, this president is not a factor that can enrich the organization.

He does not even know about the countries and regions he is now talking about. In his nine months in office, Trump has not even managed to fill the top positions in the important departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The President, who is now explaining to the world how to deal with the “rocket man” and who is about to cancel a second international agreement under the Paris Convention, has no experience of his own in foreign policy nor experts to advise him. His only expertise is the aggressive pose. The UN should not be impressed by this.

David Usborne in The Independent:

Donald Trump has spoken to the world and left us feeling what? Relieved and reassured that the leader of the world’s largest power understands his responsibilities to shelter us from calamity at a time of unusual turmoil and crisis? No. We are left on edge. We are left rattled.

Just as Trump has enjoyed upending Washington he is now revelling in chipping the crockery of international diplomacy. Could the United Nations use a breeze to clear some of its bureaucratic cobwebs and cautious timidity? It could. But an American president threatening to “totally destroy” an entire nation is more than a breeze. That’s not plain talking, its plain scary.

But there was a more fundamental problem with this speech. Trump used it not just to defend his America First agenda at home, but he pleaded with every nation to take the same path. This is a recipe not for world harmony but for jungle competition and conflict and is uniquely opposed to everything the UN stands for. “I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump said. He even appealed for a common reawakening of national patriotism. “Are we still patriots?”

He tried to dress it up as something else – a “beautiful vision of this institution and the foundation for cooperation and success”. But that is just dangerous, self-serving bunk.

Le Monde’s editorial:

In form, this discourse is a kind of long Trumpian tweet, simplistic, vulgar and incoherent, embellished with some shock-forumlas to denounce the “suicide missions” of “depraved regimes” and other “corrupt dictatorships” . Mr. Trump was so proud of his reference to the Elton John song, Rocket Man , used a few days earlier on his twitter thread about the North Korean dictator, that he deemed it appropriate to repeat it on Tuesday, confusing a UN platform and a reality show. The word chosen to criticize the Iranian nuclear deal promoted by his predecessor Barack Obama , “embarrassing” , disqualifies as almost shameful one of the biggest multilateral diplomatic efforts of recent years.

It is difficult to find in this discourse, beyond the nationalist ideology that underlies it, the sketch of a clear political line, a coherent international strategy worthy of a country like the United States. The “policy of realism of principle” evoked by Mr. Trump sounds hopelessly hollow, besides the threats that threaten the prospect of an American withdrawal from the agreement with Iran or a war with Pyongyang.

The dark faces displayed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his UN representative, Nikki Haley, during the speech of their president betrayed perhaps the consternation of the American diplomats before such postures. This is another of the inconsistencies in US foreign policy for nine months.

For the rest of the international community, this speech is a terrible challenge. And especially for Europe , ally and privileged partner of the United States, today with a reversed front with Washington on multiple issues: climate, Iran, multilateralism. The speech of President Emmanuel Macron, two hours later, was in this respect a striking contradiction. The Euro-Atlantic partnership is losing its meaning.

Eliseo Oliveras in El Periodico elaborates a little on the Iran question:

Indeed, the constant US threat to reintroduce extraterritorial sanctions to anyone investing in Iran, compounded by the new Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act 2017, is holding back European investments. European banks are reluctant to finance such investments for fear of further US sanctions. China and Russia are taking advantage of European reluctance to increase their influence in Iran. Chinese financial groups have provided Iran with more than € 25 billion for infrastructure investment since the agreement and China has become Iran’s main trading partner.

The EU, however, begins to invest in Iran. Airbus has the largest contract (22,000 million), the French company Total has launched a 4 billion project, the Italians Danieli and ENI have signed contracts of 5,700 and 3,500 million, Peugeot will invest 400 million in a factory, the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol have signed an interim agreement to produce liquefied natural gas and Germany’s BASF also plans to invest. Therefore, if Washington disengages from the agreement in October and reintroduces sanctions, it will add to the political shock economic tensions.

Robert Fisk has a more general whinge about the speech:

When, oh when, will our politicians/statesmen/dictators – mad or moderately sane – stop using the Second World War as a yardstick for their hatred and pride? Trump turned his hand to it in his UN speech – in a passage clearly written by others, but woefully out of context – when he uttered the following historical perspective:

“From the beaches of Europe to the deserts of the Middle East to the jungles of Asia, it is an eternal credit to the American character that even after we and our allies emerged victorious from the bloodiest war in history, we did not seek territorial expansion or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others.”

Phew. Well, let’s kick off with the one country Trump left alone in the UN: Russia. It was Russia which bore the brunt of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, it was Russia’s destruction of Hitler’s military power that broke the Nazis, and it was Russia which – with the approval of both Churchill and Roosevelt (and later Truman, whom Trump quotes at some length) – dominated eastern Europe with a series of vicious “socialist” dictatorships for decades after the war was over. When Trump referred to “our allies” in the Second World War, he surely – though I’m not certain of this – knew that the most powerful of them in Europe was the Soviet Union.

And there’s one more thing we might mention in this load of old Trumpery: that when Hitler marched into Poland and Denmark and Norway and Holland and Belgium and Luxembourg and then France and threatened to invade Britain, the United States enjoyed a very profitable period of neutrality – as it had done for most of the First World War – until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941, more than two years after the start of the Second World War. It was, we might remember, Hitler who then declared war on the United States, not the other way round. And French “patriotism” and “free France”, which Trump also mentioned, took something of a back seat during the four-year disgrace of the Vichy collaboration.

As for the Brits, strong we were, though it would have been good to have US troops fighting for us on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 as well as on the beaches of Normandy four years later. Pity they couldn’t make it.

And – hem, hem – I do recall another man who used the “Free French” resistance parallel from World War Two. He was trying to prove that Muslims had the right to resist the United States. He said it to me. In Afghanistan. His name was Osama bin Laden. But there you go. I guess Trump’s World War Two efforts get about two out of ten. Not bad for a guy who’s crackers.

On the domestic front, some people are taking note of the Republican primary in AL. David Usborne again, in a piece headlined “You think Donald Trump is bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet”:

Were he to make it all the way to Washington–- after defeating Strange he would still face a Democrat opponent on election day – Moore would make Trump look Kennedy-esque (and Ted Cruz a kitten). This the man who in 2005 said “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” and who was suspended from the state Supreme Court last year after he ordered all Alabama judges to ignore the US Supreme Court ruling in favour of gay marriage. It was the second time he’d been booted from the Court. The first was after he installed a stone monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building, in violation of the constitution.

On the trail just in the last few days he has spoken of “reds and yellows” in America – yes he apparently meant native Americans and Asians – and warned that punishment for loose behaviour is nigh. “You think that God’s not angry that this land is a moral slum?” he asked during a visit to a church. “How much longer will it be before his judgment comes?”

He and his supporters argue that while Trump’s heart may have been in the right place he is falling under the spell of the Washington establishment. Of Chuck and Nancy and also Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the Senate. As Sarah Palin put it, the swamp is “trying to hijack this presidency”. Yes Palin is not with Strange and therefore Trump. She is all out for Moore.

Alabama is not America, that’s for sure. But this is confusing, nonetheless, for all of us and for the leaders of the two parties. Support for Trump’s deal with the Democrats suggests an appetite for less extremism in Washington not more. But a Moore victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary would send an entirely different message: that Trump’s time in the Oval Office is but the beginning of a nationalist and populist wave in America. That it’s barely got started. In other words, for those not exactly enamoured of Trump: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Looking at the same primary in the NZZ, Peter Winkler sees Trump and Bannon on opposite sides:

The special election in Alabama, a Republican-electing southern state, has now suddenly become a prestige struggle, between the Republican establishment on the one hand and a radical oppositional opposition on the other, which indirectly refers to the rebels of the tea party movement. The success of this movement had produced a whole series of Republican congressional members in the 2010 and 2012 congressional elections, which felt themselves to be fighting not only with the Democrats but also with the establishment of their party, which in their eyes had betrayed the true goals.

The fact is that in the Republican Party since Trump’s rapid rise, a brutal power struggle for the heart and soul of the Grand Old Party rages…. But the tensions between the White House and the Republican congressmen were always unmistakable. The escalation reached a new stage, when Trumps controversial chief strategist, Stephen Bannon,was sacked a  month ago , only to set himself up as a “street fighter”, who now had a free hand, to fight with all his resources for the legacy of the President.

Moore is a Christian fundamentalist – and therefore supplies picture material for Bannon’s crusade. The only problem is that President Trump, who is supposed to benefit from Bannon’s revolution, publicly endorsed “Big Luther” Strange and did an election event for him on Saturday in Alabama.

This will create a memorable situation in Alabama that a candidate of the establishment with Trump’s support faces a challenger who is much more like the President. Should the challenger win, that would suggest that Trump’s glamor as a rebel has faded with some of the voters.

More opposition to POUTS, this time over climate change, is detailed by Arnaud Leparmentier:

Three months after the announcement by Donald Trump of the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris agreement on the climate , the American local authorities take control. This is the feeling they wanted to give during the meeting C40, this forum of the major cities of the planet engaged against global warming under the presidency of the Mayor of Paris , Anne Hidalgo.

Three hundred and seventy-five cities in the United States have decided to support the Paris agreement, while the effects of climate change in New York with the 2012 Sandy storm in the Gulf of Mexico are blatant . “Many people in Florida and Texas have unfortunately realized that warming is not a fiction,” Blasio said.

For California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, “Donald Trump is doing so much with extreme ideology and denying climate change, that he is helping the other side, it has a boomerang effect.” The Governor believes that “the iceberg of denial cracks. By his own absurdity, Trump accelerates the pendulum return .

The Republicans have made it a political issue, banishing the term “climate change”, but “the political conviction is superficial, the business community will change and the Republicans will follow,” Brown said.

But does it require renouncing the American way of life – flood-prone homes, multiple automobiles, heating and air-conditioning all year round? “What is at stake is the quality of life, people are changing and not just in Texas. Increasingly, they want cities in which to walk, “said Steve Adler, Austin’s (Texas) Democrat’s mayor, who was rather optimistic about the climate: ” It’s a cultural war more and more easy to carry .

I’m going to finish with another piece about US cities, this time from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, republished in the Tages-Anzeiger, which doesn’t cause GoogleTranslate to vomit the way the SZ does.

A few days ago, Amazon has announced that it is seeking a location for a second headquarters in North America – and the mayors and city marketing departments are already hyperventilating. Milwaukee and Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas and San Diego, a good 50 cities have already announced to invest 5 billion dollars and 50,000 new jobs.

“Kansas City will compete,” mayor Sly James immediately after the bidding. “We will think big and be creative,” promised Little Rock’s father, Mark Stodola. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Boston’s Mayor, Marty Walsh, on Twitter.

It is the largest city-casting in American economic history. Sacramento would provide new, young residents with fresh money, apartments, restaurants, culture, says Barry Broome from the Greater Sacramento Economic Council. “It would be incredible. All at once our economy would change. ”

According to the codename of the new office, “HQ2”, Amazon wants Unis and schools nearby, high quality of life and public transport. It does not look as if stumbling cities like Detroit had a chance. Other areas such as Indiana and North Carolina are likely to miss out because Amazon wants cosmopolitan residents – not those who refuse to bake cakes for weddings of homosexuals or to share toilets with transsexuals.

Put your city’s application in now.



  1. Welcome back, Michael! You were missed.

    I have been watching the German elections for two things: one, I consider Angela Merkel the leader of the free world, and two, they managed to keep the Russians from tampering with their election, something that America needs to learn.

    The billboards for the German right-wing party are particularly ghastly. I suspect we will see a lot more of this blatant white-identity politics in America’s next presidential election since the Republican Party has figured out that openly embracing this part of their base has no negative electoral consequences. :(

    I keep seeing something about the possibility of a 2nd Brexit vote. Is there anything to it?

    • It’s just about impossible to say what might happen on Brexit. Since the Cabinet is now at war internally, no-one knows what the Government’s position is, least of all the Government.

      At some point, though, it will become apparent what some of the big-ticket items in a proposed deal will be. Then it will be possible to have an actual argument about whether this is really where we want to go. And then it may become apparent that it’s not where a lot of people want to go and that we really need another vote. Or not, as the case may be.

  2. Thank you, Michael; enlightening as always. My Detroit-centric chauvinism, of course, objects to writing off my beloved city in the Amazon HQ2 article. Logically, I know our lack of public transportation is probably a deal-breaker, but much of the rest of the qualifications are met (as well as any other city meets them). The reflexive bashing of Detroit isn’t going to go away anytime soon; much of it was earned in years past. But I couldn’t let it stand without pointing out that change is happening. It’s not all good (gentrification at the expense of long-term residents is a real concern), but we’re not the poster child for ruin porn anymore either.

    • After how our state was FoxCONned, everyone should be leery about coughing up state money to lure big businesses. Amazon is less a pig in a poke but I question the 50,000 jobs number. So much is automated now, I can’t imagine what 50,000 people would do! Wisconsin just redirected 25 years of K-12 and upper education money into tax breaks and infrastructure to build a plant that may create 3,000 jobs – most of them paying minimum wage and a hundred or so needing skills that no one in our state has (our graduates are leaving because our state government is regressive and people outside the major cities are aholish). Right now minimum wage jobs are already going begging. How this boondoggle will do anything except look good on Scott Walker’s resume is difficult to comprehend.

      That said, Amazon is a real company with real jobs and some city will end up with the headquarters and lots of (maybe not 50,000) jobs for the people there. I hope it is a city like Detroit that has the bones of an infrastructure in place and not a state that has to build an entire new city to compete.

  3. {{{Michael}}} – glad you are feeling well enough to be back. Hope Amazon goes for a place that needs the business – but most of the places that need it most don’t have the requirements. Especially not transit. sigh. Meanwhile it’s good that most of the world realizes mad king donald is mad. It will be easier to heal the damage after he’s gone. moar {{{HUGS}}} and Healing Energy.

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