Michael Holmans

Easter Breakfast

I’m writing on Saturday, so let’s hope we’re all still here to read it on Sunday.

As is becoming almost usual, I’m leading off with Patrick Cockburn:

War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters have greeted President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, the dropping of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and the dispatch of a naval task force in the direction of North Korea.

This spurt in belligerence over the last week has as much to do with domestic American politics as any fundamental new development in the rest of the world. Trump needed to defuse the accusation that he was too close to President Putin and too tolerant of a Russian ally like Bashar al-Assad. The resort to military action was largely in keeping with the old Pentagon saying that “defence policy ends at the water’s edge”, meaning that it is politics inside, not outside the US, which is the real decision-maker.

Simple-minded though some of Trump’s declarations might appear, others were more realistic than anything said by Hillary Clinton or Senator John McCain.

In Syria, for instance, the main problem for the US and its allies is and has long been that, though they would very much like to get rid of Assad, the only alternative appears to be anarchy or the empowerment of Isis and al-Qaeda clones. Clinton’s policy, insofar as she had one, was to pretend that there already existed, or could be created, a “third force” in Syria that would fight and ultimately replace both Isis and Assad. This is the sort of fantasy that is frequently common currency among think tanks and dedicated experts, often retired generals or diplomats working as TV commentators.

Trump’s summary of what was happening in Syria expressed during the presidential campaign was far more realistic. He said that his attitude was that “you are fighting Syria, Syria is fighting Isis, and you have to get rid of Isis. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful because of us, aligned with Syria… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

Obama could see what was going wrong, though he generally responded with stoic resignation rather than attempting to change the course of events. But his analysis of the weaknesses of the US foreign policy establishment and its policies is full of fascinating insights relevant to the more conventional policy on which Donald Trump is now apparently embarking. Goldberg says that Obama “questioned, often harshly, the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism. He is clearly irritated that foreign policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.” He had similar misgivings about US links to Pakistan.

One thing I very much like about Cockburn is his skepticism about politicians of all stripes. I’ve not been able to detect him pushing any particular line while writing about the ME conflicts beyond a slight sympathy for the Kurds’ wish to have a safe space where they can be left alone.

I don’t mind his criticism of HRC in the slightest: I was a strong supporter of her candidacy, but I was never under the illusion that I’d be entirely comfortable with her military stance (although I never bought the idiot Left’s lurid depictions of her as a bloodthirsty warmonger).

It’s been pretty clear to me for some time that there are no good guys in the Syria/ISIS conflict: Assad is a monstrous butcher, but the Syrian opposition aren’t exactly models of upright decency either. So I’ll continue to let Cockburn explain to me what’s going on.

One thing is evident, though. POTUS* is changing his little mind. Mark Steel comments:

What a relief to discover that after all our worries, Donald Trump is full of heart. Now many people who suggested he was a narcissistic, bigoted maniac have realised they misunderstood him and he’s a tender emotional sort, because his order to bomb Syria proves he was moved by the pictures of children attacked by President Assad.

There’s no real indication of whether the bombing had any military impact or what it was designed to do, but that doesn’t matter. It was a symbolic gesture and Assad now knows if he uses any more chemical weapons, he’ll be dealt another one. Trump might poison his fish or even unfollow him on Twitter, because he’s motivated by his heart.

It may be true that other bombing sessions out there, such as the ones in Iraq or Libya, didn’t go entirely to plan, but this is a much simpler situation, and carried out by a President known for carefully nuanced subtlety, so it’s hard to see a problem.

This time the bombing is simple. So if you don’t support it, you’re helping Assad. This is different from a couple of years ago when we were asked to support the bombing of Isis, who were fighting against Assad. At that point anyone not supporting the bombing was told they were helping Isis, and not backing Assad enough. Sometimes we might change sides during a bombing campaign, but then we simply shout down to everyone and ask them to move around so the bombs land on the right people.

As proof of his careful planning, Trump now claims Nato is not obsolete after all, which some journalists who follow him closely suggest could indicate a possible change from his earlier claims that Nato was an utterly obsolete useless turd.

Mention of NATO leads naturally to some coverage of POTUS*’s meeting with its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Frithjof Jacobsen has some thoughts:

The same day that Jens Stoltenberg spent an entire afternoon in the White House – he was there much longer than the time it took to meet Trump – the Washington Post published an article about how difficult it is for leaders to get something concrete out of meetings with Trump. Several sources in Washington’s diplomatic corps have said that the meetings with Trump created uncertainty and doubt, because the president just sat there, seemingly without a plan for what was to come out of them.

An unnamed source said it was like getting into a bar and just ending up talking to a stranger on the stool beside. In and of itself one of the nicest things to happen in a bar, but not so fine for creating order in international politics. Had it been the Irish prime minister could perhaps live with it, but everyone who comes into the Oval Office does so with a deep need for direction, leadership and oversight. That is not what they get from Trump

As far as I understand, Stoltenberg’s most important meeting happened before he met the president. The meeting also took place in the White House, but not in the Oval Office. It was the office of the National Security Advisor HR McMaster, at which  Defense Minister James Mattis was also present. The two former generals, along with Secretary of Rex Tillerson, seem now to be those that in practice create and execute US foreign and security policy.

This is in a way good news for NATO and Europe, since they both have a safe and traditional approach to the things NATO cares about. But it also shows how confusing and person-based power relations are in Trump’s administration. And a little disturbing is to see how apparently quickly Trump can park counselor Steve Bannon and his wing, which barely one hundred days ago seemed to be the central political power around Trump. If they can be sidelined so quickly, we have no guarantee that the generals will not be sent to the doghouse at short notice.

Now let’s move on to something else, such as the special election in GA. Annett Meiritz has a clear-eyed report for Der Spiegel:

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, the Democrats have had an identity crisis. In Ossoff, the party sees the first opportunity for revenge against Trump – although the candidate is only competing in a district election in the state of Georgia.
Ossoff is trying to win a congressional district in the north of Atlanta, which has been won by Republicans for almost 40 years, for the Democrats. His chances are not bad.

Outside Georgia, Ossoff has supporters all across the party, but on the ground it is almost exclusively women who are active for him. One of the largest on-site groups, Pave it Blue, has more than a thousand members and comes from a Facebook group for mothers from the neighborhood.

“Up until recently I had nothing to do with politics, I sat on the couch and screamed at the TV,” says supporter Sheila Leby. Now she knocks on doors, starts telephone chains, distributes stickers in shopping centers and pubs.

Elsewhere in the US the protest against Trump is also driven by women, as the movement around the Women’s March showed. Nevertheless, one ought not to conclude too much from Ossoff’s home district on the mobilization potential of an entire nation. Many women who live here can afford to wave posters on a weekday morning. The area – white, prosperous, high SUV density – hardly represents the average.

Should Ossoff finally turn the district from red to blue, this may be due to a desire for feel-good politics. Ossoff, who wants to make Atlanta the “Silicon Valley of the South” and wants to defend “democratic values”, has a polite and smart effect on people. He wears a suit, is well-groomed, and grips the hands of his visitors often a second longer than necessary.

Moving quickly on again, Davin O’Dwyer has some views about Jared Kushner’s new role.

Trump isn’t the first leader to add the word innovation to the name of a government department, of course – Canada, Australia and, yes, Ireland also have departments nominally dedicated to innovation. Indeed, we currently have two Ministers with innovation in their job titles – Mary Mitchell O’Connor and John Halligan are tasked with keeping Ireland at the cutting edge.

However, in these cases, innovation is being tacked on to add a veneer of modernity to the same government apparatus that has always overseen industrial policy. The rebranding is a swift, cheap way of giving the impression that the old departments of industry are all over the burgeoning technology sector.

In the case of the Kushner Office for American Innovation, however, the goal is far more pernicious. Discussing the new department, President Donald Trump told the Post: “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

Here we have the purest distillation of that persistent canard – that government must be run more like business. It is the logical conclusion of a sort of radical free-market ideology that sees a “business” approach as the only solution to whatever problem faces society. It is certainly not a new idea, with versions of it gaining popularity at various stages over the past few centuries, but its most ardent devotees seem resistant to all contrary evidence.

That’s not to say that government can’t learn anything from the world of business, but rather that the lessons are not universally transferable.

Sascha Lobo has some thoughts about the world of business occasioned by Dr Dao being dragged off United’s plane:

The unbelievable handling of the passenger by United Airlines and its vicarious agents is a direct result of the lack of choice of the customers, which can also be seen in the fact that in a crowded aircraft not a single passenger was willing to leave for 800 dollars. The ugly face of a monopoly is the fact that you can treat your customers like crap. They have no immediate alternative.

This is where social media and their power comes into play, which is amplified by billions of electronic eyes and ears on smartphones. Digital social networking can have a regulating effect – for fear. Because every single customer could theoretically put precisely the video, exactly the photo, exactly the posting into the world which will damage a company as much as the United video.

Social media can drive the price of bad customer care to astronomical heights. Economically, one could say that lack of consumer protection or lack of competition is a counter-force: a regulation gap is filled with the foaming indignation of the public….

The bloody doctor has become a symbol of the miserable treatment of customers by corporations. And together with the tangle of rage in social media, it also symbolizes the fact that customers will not be able to afford everything, even if they do not have a real market choice due to a lack of competition.

Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on “symbol”, because social media are too discontinuous, too fast and too volatile to be able to counteract a market that is dysfunctional by monopolies or oligopolies in the long term.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it’s the Spanish media which is keeping the closest eye on El Muro. Here’s a piece from ABC:

Trump is behind the times: the famous wall already exists. And in some parts there is even a double barrier. When a passenger leaves the terminal of the Tijuana airport, the first thing he sees on the other side of the road is the approximately six meters of fence that divides both countries. And immediately afterwards there is a second wall to reinforce the entrance to the United States. But not all the border is walled. They are more than 3,000 kilometers of dividing line and about 1,000 kilometers have already been entrenched with barbed wire, steel rods and cement. However, illegal immigration has continued to flow into the world’s first economy .

“Right now it takes migrants 20 seconds to jump the current wall. With Trump’s it will be 40 seconds, it will not stop them “, says Enrique Morones, founder of the NGO Ángeles de la Frontera, dedicated to the support of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The current barrier – which was begun in 1994 – was created to curb drug trafficking and Latin American immigrants to the United States. But both have kept coming.

“The only thing that this wall has done is to cause the death of 11,000 people,” a figure they calculate in Angeles de la Frontera, but it is difficult to know because there are no data for many of the dead in the desert. They are three days walking, carrying very limited reserves of water in an area where it is very hot by the day and very cold at night. Many die from hypothermia and dehydration to achieve their dream of treading on American soil.

President Trump now seeks funds to surround the 2,000 kilometers that are missing from the border (almost from Madrid to Berlin by road), a project estimated by Congress to cost around $ 21.6 billion (the Madrid-Barcelona high-speed rail link cost approximately 9,000 million). Enrique touches a rudimentary forged iron staircase in his office. “I found it near the wall. You know what’s going to happen if Trump builds a 13-meter wall? There will be stairs of 13 meters, “he said.

I present this next piece with some trepidation, because I know a number of people are already sick to death of NYT pieces explaining how Trump voters are the salt of the earth who need particular attention (not to mention various supposedly liberal politicians touting a similar line), but this article by Franziska Bulban is a thoughtful attempt to make Trump supporters comprehensible to bemused Europeans:

Anyone who wants to know what the main table thinks must get up early in Yadkin County. Between six and eight o’clock, while the sun is shining over the hilly foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the family restaurant “Mount Olympus” is a lively place to visit. 25 to 30 farmers are sitting around a long table, ordering Hashbrowns and Bacon, drinking iced tea and coffee, talking about the surprising cold weather in March, about new tobacco regulations, cars, family and politics. Almost eighty percent of voters in Yadkin County – roughly two hours in a car from North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh – voted for Donald Trump in November, one of his strongest constituencies in the competitive “swing state”.

Many Europeans may be inclined to ask what Trump could do for a conservative Baptist like Chief Parks to consider it inappropriate. However, on the journey through Yadkin County conversations reveal: people do not even believe that Trump can implement all his plans. As soon as one moves away from the election campaign, some sentences that come up can also be said by Democrats. In the end almost everyone wants the same: an affordable health system. To feel safe. Economic success

….Lee Zachary – 70 years old, Republican, Representative for Yadkin County in the House of North Carolina – looks thoughtfully through his rimless glasses. “I have a friend, he’s from an old Democratic family, and perhaps, if we take away the political labels, we would be amazingly similar.”

Zachary is a lawyer in Yadkinville, but when the House is in session, he is at least three days a week in the capital, Raleigh. Here in the House of the Legislature he has an unadorned office with gray painted masonry stones and a desk that is overflowing with requests. Zachary has long been involved in local politics in order to “swing the pendulum in both directions,” as he puts it. Trump has not been in office long enough to allow himself a verdict.

That the president had announced, for example, the “draining of the swamp”, but now depends on employees of Wall Street, he does not necessarily find to be a contradiction – on the stock exchange one can find people with the view of the big picture. “You know what many people do not understand: people accept the weaknesses of The Donald as long as he does something about professional politics. And the media, “says Zachary. He was afraid some voters were simply disgusted by compromises. “As a lawyer, I know: If after some negotiations only one is happy, this is a bad result, because the other side will always doubt and challenge. A good result is when both sides are a bit dissatisfied – but can live with it. “It is an interesting comparison that Zachary makes. When looking at elections as a negotiation about the representation of a society, then perhaps one side was too happy under Obama. And maybe now the other side is too happy under Trump. True success would be to celebrate the compromise more than the victory of one’s own side.

Could there be something the President could do wrong for Yadkin County? “Hardly,” says Zachary. “He could drive us into a war or a depression, but not much else. If Trump manages to bring back a few jobs – great. If not, we have lost nothing. “

Now, that wasn’t so painful, was it? Some of what some Trump supporters say is reminiscent of Patrick Cockburn’s evident frustration with an establishment which is entirely comfortable with the conventional wisdom, whether or not the conventional wisdom makes sense or gets us anywhere.

I don’t think there is much bad in the idea that the conventional wisdom needs to be challenged. It’s honestly appalling that it takes someone as bonkers as Trump to do it: it’s what sensible people ought to be doing a lot more of. The conventional wisdom may well be right in a lot of cases, but even that needs to be checked every so often to see whether it’s still right.

Which is a way of segueing over to the French election. From my admittedly superficial knowledge of Emmanuel Macron’s program, there are some bits I like and some I dislike, but he is a centrist with imagination who doesn’t believe in the conventional wisdom or the traditional totems of left or right. Being a centrist doesn’t necessarily mean that you want more of the same or that you’re comfortable with where things are — it just means that you’re not on one extreme or another.

Predictably, the ideological left are going around saying that Macron isn’t progressive enough to deserve their vote assuming he gets to the run-off. In this piece,  Jérôme Perrier replies to such a case being made by the political scientist Thomas Guénolé and offers this progressive argument for a Macron run-off vote:

Thomas Guénolé continues his pretended demonstration by explaining why Emmanuel Macron can not be considered a left-wing man when he defends, he says, the uberization of the economy, intends to “suppress the allowances of a Unemployed person who would refuse two offers paid 25% less than his previous job “, while proposing to ” lower the taxes of the shareholders “ and increase the CSG.

Clearly, the spirit of our political scientist has never been touched by the hypothesis that a man of the left, while remaining true to his values, may want to reform the labor market by putting an end to a certain number of rigidities, As the Social Democrat Schröder did in Germany some fifteen years ago; With the aim of finally putting an end to this insidious and catastrophic French preference for the unemployment which has plagued our society for some forty years (and that the “social treatment” engaged by all governments, right and left, Has never managed to defeat). After all, taking a model on our neighbor across the Rhine, where the unemployment rate has fallen to around 5%, is perhaps a way of defending labor value that is otherwise more relevant than the universal income of Benoît Hamon Or the 32 hours advocated by a left ensconced in the fallacious ideology of the end of work.

A Cold War Manicheism

On the other hand, in the matter of taxation, rather than opposing the rich and the poor in a cold-war manicheism, it must be possible for a left-leaning man with a minimum of common sense to admit that when one beats At the same time, all the records of taxation and public deficits, there is something rotten in the kingdom of France, and that it is not by eternally repeating the old antiphon of the “let’s pay the rich” Will lead to a solution that benefits everyone. Finally, even if Thomas Guénolé does not mention it, it can be argued that being a leftist is to defend Europe against the populists of all kinds, as – alone and courageously – Emmanuel Macron, rather than Seeking his models in the ruinous Bolivarianism of Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela or in Putin’s authoritarianism that seduces Jean-Luc Mélenchon – for whom the only devil that is worth is in Washington.

Regardless of Thomas Guénolé, one can indeed be liberal, European, Atlanticist, progressive and leftist.

I make no apology for supporting Macron: we saw last November what preciousness about one’s progressive principles can lead to.

Those who know of Les Événements of May 1968 may remember Danny the Red, who now prefers to be called Daniel Cohn-Bendit. He too has weighed in:

How do you judge the tone of this campaign?

I think a lot of people are derailed. I do not understand the options some want to take. Take for example Thomas Piketty, a great world-renowned economist who advises Benoît Hamon but says today that in the second round he will vote Mélenchon and not Macron. This amounts to saying that the useful vote on the left is Mélenchon. Even Hamon said the same thing. It is a desertion in open country, a suicide in full flight. For there will never be a run-off between Mélenchon and Macron!

To find you with Bayrou, Villepin or Perben, it does not make you feel weird?

But stop. If I were with the PS or Mélenchon, I would also find myself with strange people. I am simply saying that today the coalition to repel Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon is there. Let us not forget that the ultrathatcherian right, reactionary and catholic, is still standing. She’s prepared to fuck businessmen as much as the far right supports Le Pen. Today, the candidate to get out of this slump is rather Emmanuel Macron. But I frankly admit, to decide for him is to take a risk.

Which ?

The risk is that Emmanuel Macron has a liberal-social or social-liberal program with an ecological platform that defends itself, even if Hamon goes further. I am a demanding supporter, not a blessed-yes-yes. Is he in favor of reducing the share of nuclear power to 50% in electricity in 2030? That means you have to close more than a nuclear power plant. Not just Fessenheim. When he says he is going to hand over an ecological taxation to relieve that of labor, it will have to be done. I will be demanding.

Will he not end up with a much more right-wing majority or be condemned to a standstill at the center?

Yes, there is a risk. But again, who will have a majority? None elected on May 7 will have an absolute majority in the legislative elections. There will likely be a strong representation of Launching the Assembly if Macron is elected, but he will not have the majority on his own. His ability to act will thus depend on the political intelligence of the Reformers on the left and on the right to find a compromise to govern. This is interesting and new in the current political period.

Lastly, here’s a piece surveying all the leading candidates by reference to the countries they have been visiting, of which I’m only excerpting a little:

Marine Le Pen, in search of credit and accustomed to misfires

Not obvious, for the president of the FN, as formerly for her father, to be received abroad. On the list of misses, recently: Canada, where the “officials” fled Marine Le Pen and England, where the candidate wanted to be seen hobnobbing with the pro-Brexit camp. The trip was eventually canceled.

In New York , in January, it was not quite that bad. Sold to the press as a private trip and not an official stay, the trip will still have been the occasion to see Marine Le Pen drinking a coffee at the bottom of the Trump Tower while the entourage of the American president hammered that no meeting was planned. But this move had perhaps another objective: money. As Libération had raised , the president of the FN was accompanied by Pierre Ceyrac, a former French representative of the Moon sect, who had organized the handshake between Reagan and [Jean-Marie] Le Pen.

François Fillon, the staging of the warlord

In June, the images were seen on almost all TV channels: François Fillon in Erbil , on the front line, with peshmergas. And beware, Daesh is only “a few kilometers away,” said a Kurdish fighter. A good comms operation, as evidenced by Paris Match , embedded in the suitcases of the candidate : “This passionate racing and mountaineering is never as comfortable as in dangerous situations.” If someone had doubts about Francois Fillon’s ability to wear the costume of a warlord, that is what is settled. And for the most skeptical, there was another trip, in Niger and Mali this time, for a visit to the French soldiers engaged in Operation Barkhane. Note that defense is just one of the only items of expenditure that the candidate wants to increase.

Benoît Hamon, moving as a political marker

For his first visit, Benoît Hamon chose Portugal . Random? Surely not. There, socialists, communists and the radical left have ignored their differences to govern together. A signal sent to the French left when the candidate still hoped for a large gathering, even irritating some socialists, not really delighted at the idea of ​​topping with Mélenchon. He will also meet with the Director of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction, while the country has decriminalized the use of all drugs. Accident? Always not. The candidate promises to legalize cannabis. In short, through this displacement, it is a “look, it is possible” that launched the candidate.

It’s a good read, although the odd paragraph emerges badly damaged from GoogleTranslate. Next Sunday is polling day.

And this Sunday is Easter Sunday. Whatever that means to you, have a good one.

 

British Breakfast

We’ll start this week’s collection with the thoughts of Patrick Cockburn on Syria, since he knows more about what’s going on there than virtually any other journalist:

President Donald Trump had little option but to order a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after holding Syria responsible for that poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 80 civilians. He had criticised President Obama for being weak, slow and indecisive when facing similar challenges, so he could scarcely do nothing when President Bashar al-Assad appeared to breach the agreement in 2013 to hand over all his chemical weapons to be destroyed.

The fact that the US has taken its first direct military action against Assad is significant, not so much because it has done much damage to the Syrian armed forces, but because it may be repeated. Senior politicians and generals in the US have been calling for air strikes to take out or at last “ground” the whole Syrian air force. This option is now more on the table than it was previously, but that does not mean that it is going to happen.

The launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles that killed six people and did an unknown amount of damage at al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in central Syria is symbolic. But it is a warning that is likely to be taken seriously in both Moscow and Damascus, because full-scale American intervention against Assad is the one thing that would deny them victory in the war.

Those who argue that the Syrian armed forces would not have done anything quite so foolish and against their own interests as to launch the strikes, probably underestimate the extent of the stupidity present in all armies. There is an old Israeli military saying, employed about a number of their commanders, which is apposite and says that the general “was so stupid that even the other generals noticed”.

As for the Russians, their military intervention in Syria has hitherto been highly successful because it has re-established them, at least in the Middle East, as a superpower. If they conclude that Assad was indeed behind the chemical attack – something they currently deny – then they will be infuriated that he has risked so much for so little. The Kremlin will be eager to continue to pursue parallel policies with Washington, something that dates back to 2015 when Obama decided not to oppose Putin’s military intervention on the side of Assad. This was a critical moment in the outcome of the war.

From Trump’s point of view there is a great advantage in any cross words coming from Moscow because they will counter accusations in the US that he is too close to the Russians. Democratic Party and media criticism, based on conspiracy theories claiming that Russian hackers determined the course of the election, will be deflated and Trump will have his first foreign policy success. The missile strike could do more change to the political landscape than in Syria.

Cockburn’s piece is strangely comforting, in that it says that what’s been done is roughly what any rational successor to President Obama would have done to advance US strategy in the region. HRC has basically agreed with the action, which suggests that she would have done something very similar, although she would probably now be in the process of gaining agreement from Congress. I’m somewhat less outraged than some others about not asking Congress before taking this retaliatory action: there’s a very strong argument that any President would have had to act quickly.

The coalition which is strongly critical of the action consists of Putin, Iran, Breitbart, Ann Coulter, most of Europe’s leading deplorables and Bozo Bernie, and he’s certainly lost the support of Max Benwell:

I first began to support Donald Trump when he forced Barack Obama to release his birth certificate in 2011. It was groundbreaking – no other sitting president had ever been made to do it. But then again, Obama was like no other president.

But with the air strikes in Syria, everything has changed. Trump isn’t the president I thought he was. I just wish I had the chance to realise my mistake sooner.

Before he entered the White House, Trump had been accused of ripping off business partners, discriminating against ethnic minorities, and defrauding students. He had also declared corporate bankruptcy several times, and oversaw the financial collapse of multiple casinos. So you can imagine my excitement five years later when he launched his presidential campaign and, in his first mesmerising speech, called Mexican people rapists.

When Trump became president, my loyal support only grew. I didn’t mind when he lied about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He had my full support when he falsely claimed Obama wiretapped him. And when he recently defended Bill O’Reilly, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, I saw no wrong at all.

Everyone has their own personal principles. Your “red lines”, so to speak. Mine are as follows: you can do whatever you want. You can ban all refugees coming to America. You can try to cut healthcare benefits that keep millions of Americans alive, and roll back the regulations designed to protect millions from climate change. You can be sexist, racist and brag about sexually assaulting women. But don’t bomb an airfield used by a dictator for attacks on his own people. How can you support someone after that?

I thought he was going to be great. But in the end, he disappointed us all, and after showing so much promise. He crossed a line. And that’s why I can no longer support Donald Trump.

Ann Coulter herself could hardly have expressed it better.

Mention of Iran, though, brings up an issue which didn’t hit the banner headlines this week. Stéphane Lauer looks at the dilemma which Boeing have presented:

The US aerospace company Boeing, announcing a deal on the sale of sixty 737 MAX aircraft to Iran Aseman Airlines on Tuesday (April 4th), poses a major problem for the White House, which has the final say on this type of agreement. Will US President Donald Trump ‘s hostility towards Iran, and in particular the Iranian nuclear agreement signed in 2015 by his predecessor, fade in the face of The opportunity to trade with this country, and thus create jobs in the United States?

This is the first time this has happened since Mr. Trump took office on January 20. Boeing had already announced the sale of eighty aircraft worth 16.6 billion dollars (15.55 billion euros) to Iran Air in December 2016. But at the time, Obama, who had been one of the main architects of the nuclear agreement with Iran, still occupied the White House.

One of the counterparts to the compromise reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, Russia , China , France , the United Kingdom and Germany consisted of lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Tehran, which agreed to limit its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept international inspections to verify their application. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced this compromise, which he says leaves a free hand to a state that sponsors terrorism and destabilizes the Middle East. The US president has hinted that he could reverse this deal.

The problem is that, at the same time, Mr. Trump also promised that he would do everything in his power to create employment in American industry. This is indeed the subject of the announcement made by Boeing, the sale of sixty 737 MAX would be likely to create 18,000 jobs in the United States.

But the main obstacle is likely to be political . Part of the Republican majority in Congress does not hide its hostility to trade with Iran. On Tuesday, Illinois Republican Representative Peter Roskam described the agreement announced by Boeing as “outrageous” , saying it coincided with the revelation that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Tehran, is accused of carrying out a toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun , a town held by opponents of his regime. Mr. Roskam called on Mr. Trump to do everything in his power” to stop the sale of the Boeing.

Poor Donnie. To fulfil one campaign promise, he has to break another. Who knew that governing could be so complicated?

Another thing which didn’t get all that much attention was the visit of the Egyptian President. Dorothea Hahn comments:

According to the rules of the late 18th century which determine the course of presidential elections in the USA, Donald Trump has been validly elected to the White House. But his admiration does not extend to other duly elected government officials. When with Theresa May from Great Britain, Justin Trudeau from Canada and Angela Merkel, he seems like a flail that is not interested in foreign policy and, above all, seems to hope that the encounter will pass quickly. On the other hand, he glows in the company of tyrants. With them he smiles, distributes compliments and speaks of cooperation.

The most recent example of this authoritarian preference is the meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Monday at the White House. The man, who led the coup in 2013 against the first democratically elected government in Cairo, and since then threw thousands of oppositionists into the Egyptian prisons, was the first foreign state leader to congratulate Trump on the electoral victory last November. On Monday, he sat next to him in front of a fireplace in the White House and beamed, while Trump praised him for his “fantastic work”.

Trump’s argument for the demonstrative kindness to the autocrats is the fight against terrorism – especially against IS. In a region that has many other problems, antiterrorism is a modest common denominator. But even this reduced co-operation has narrow borders, which also shows itself in conflicting interests in Syria: Saudi Arabia wants the fall of Assad, Turkey wants Washington (and in Iraq) to give up its privileged relationship with Kurdish forces . And Egypt is constantly producing new supplies of jihadists through political repression and economic hardship in its own country.

The authoritarian preference produces images that show Trump with a certain long overdue foreign policy interest. But it does not provide a political strategy for one of the most complex regions of the planet.

 Moving quickly on, Per Olav Ødegård has some thoughts on a couple of meetings involving China’s President Xi:

Directly from Donald Trump to Erna Solberg. No one can deny the president Xi Jinping in the Chinese century.

In the most important US-China summit in decades, it’s mostly about North Korea and trade. Behind closed doors in Trumps country Mar-a-Lago in Florida expected a day of tough conditions and harsh demands.

There will be more harmonious in the People’s Great Hall in Beijing in a few days, during the first Norwegian-Chinese summit since the Ice Age began in 2010. There is no time to take up the difficult topic, read human rights.

An inexperienced president who formulates policy with big letters on twitter meets an extremely experienced executive with high global ambitions.

The Chinese have had problems with getting a handle on Trump. Is he just a paper tiger or is he serious? Does he want cooperation or seek confrontation?

Mao Zedong launched the concept paper tiger in 1946 to describe the reactionary forces at home and abroad. A paper tiger, whether a leader or a nation, gives the impression of being big and powerful. In reality, the paper tiger is weak and nothing to be afraid of.

As part of the Trumps standard repertoire in the campaign, he was hostile about China. They had for years exploited the US and caused the US factory gates were closed.

– When Donald Trump becomes president will China know that America is again in the lead for global business and that there will be an end to currency-fixing and cheating, it was said at Trumps website.

Trump appeared like a tiger. It scared Beijing that  after the election victory Trump broke a 37-year long American practice by talking to Taiwan’s president on the phone , and then question the one-China-policy. That there is only one China PRC credo.

In February Trump’s tone was differwnt. He called Xi and said that the one-China policy remained unchanged. Now the pressure was on to strengthen cooperation. In Chinese eyes resembled Trump, with contradictions and retreat, a paper tiger.

With Prime Minister Solberg’s mission to the Middle Kingdom is a delegation of 230 participants, including leading Norwegian business leaders who will be meeting a thousand Chinese counterparts. There are contracts on the table. It’s time for “business as usual”.

However, there was never any break in trade. Norwegian exports to China have increased sharply in recent years. But political normalization provides greater flexibility and at last negotiations on a free trade agreement can be finalized.

China pushed Norway out in the cold because the Nobel Committee in 2010 gave the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo . He is still in prison for his dissenting opinions. In Xi’s presidency there is even less room for dissent. It makes it even more important than before to talk about human rights in China.

Norway defends happily loud and clear universal human rights. It is apparently just not doing it now. It’ll have to wait for another time, when dialogue is well underway.

With the risks it entails for Norway when emerging as a paper tiger.

 Now some history. Enrique Feás notices some similarities between Trump and President Hoover:

In 1928 a large part of the population of the United States felt dissatisfied. Technology and globalization had put farmers in a precarious situation: motor vehicles had displaced beasts of burden and generated an agricultural surplus that exerted downward pressure on prices and salaries, exacerbated by the competitive price of imports, which were perceived as a threat.

In parallel, Mexican immigration was considered a problem. To the many Mexicans who decided to stay in the territories incorporated to the United States after the war of 1848 were added the exiled and displaced by the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. Many worked in mining, industry or railways and favored American expansion, but with the crisis of 1920-21 began an aggressive anti-immigration campaign that resulted in the creation of a Customs Patrol on the border with the neighbor country in 1924 (the wall would not begin to be built until seventy years later).

Protectionism and the curbing of immigration were therefore hot topics in the 1928 election campaign. Herbert Hoover, a wealthy, politically-minded, somewhat arrogant mining entrepreneur (“who at forty has not made a million dollars is nobody”) He was able to interpret the discontent of Protestant white farmers and workers: during his electoral campaign he promised first to raise tariffs, second to stop immigration and guaranteed all their jobs and wages. Its electoral slogan was very simple: “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage”. And it worked.

Neither the expulsion of the Mexicans nor the protectionism helped the economic recovery, but rather they harmed it, delaying it. Between 1929 and 1933, US imports fell 66% and exports 61%, and unemployment rose to 25%. Herbert Hoover was swept in the following elections against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who pioneered the New Deal and recovery, reduced tariffs and, after World War II, helped lay the foundations of a new world order based on economic and Trade and multilateralism.

Hoover left the presidency amid the hostility of the press and the resentment of the population, but over time he would be able to rehabilitate his image, doing advisory work for the Truman administration. Retired from public life, he died in New York in 1964, probably mired in remorse. Who was going to tell him that in the second decade of the following century another businessman turned president, faced with similar problems, would be willing to repeat the same mistakes.

I guess most of us are a bit young to remember all that, although it probably made a big impression on a then middle-aged future Senator from VT who will no doubt see himself as the new FDR to save America.

I learned this week that Mar-a-Lago was actually left to the USA by its original owner for use as a winter White House, but that the government sold it off because it was too expensive to run. So I’m going to finish with this fascinating piece from Mark S Smith:

DONALD Trump seems to be exacting some kind of sweet revenge on the genteel folk of Palm Beach, Florida – and they’re not happy. If you’ve never heard of this place, that’s exactly how the people who live here like it. Three drawbridges, which rise for passing yachts, isolate the town from the rest of the world and keep the riff-raff at bay – as one observer once put it, in case of insurrection on the mainland.

Welcome to America’s most exclusive community – “the island”, as locals call it. This balmy, sun-drenched 13-mile spit of sand, 90 minutes’ drive north from Miami, is a village of the privacy-obsessed and gaga rich. Around 30 of the 400 wealthiest people in the world own property in here, as do celebrities including Rod Stewart, Jimmy Buffet, Celine Dion, and tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

Each weekend the president spends here – five out of 10 so far – security protocols have closed bridges, clogged thoroughfares and blocked roads, essentially cutting the south of the town off from the north.

On top of that, small armies of protesters often show up when the president is in residence, as well as supporter groups wearing “Make America Great Again” caps and media crews. Not only has this added to the traffic congestion, but it has also been blamed for lost sales to businesses, dozens of restaurant cancellations and widespread frustration.

However, the most destabilising effect is the sudden abundance of unwelcome attention from the outside world.

These disruptions cap a private, 30-year war that Trump and the blue-bloods here, who dominate Palm Beach, have waged on one another. Now that he is the president, some here say Trump is relishing their current displeasure.

Most people here will tell you – even Trump supporters – that the brash, loud-mouthed, self-aggrandising New York property tycoon has never fitted in. He may be a billionaire, own Mar-a-Lago and even be the leader of the free world, but Trump has a bellboy’s hope in hell of ever garnering the kind of pedigree required here.

His response back in 1990, when asked in a Vanity Fair article if he was bothered at not being invited to join the exclusive Bath and Tennis Club (lovingly known as the B&T): “They kiss my ass in Palm Beach. Those phonies.”

The deeper you dig, the more ironic it seems that most Palm Beachers voted for him.

To better understand the often-unfathomable mindset of Trump, his strange relationship with Palm Beach offers fascinating insights.

Another resident, a former banker from Manhattan, is waiting for his wife outside the Chanel store. He says he has played golf at Mar-a-Lago and has also eaten there.

“It was very nice,” he says. “Trump likes to work the crowd at dinnertime and greet people. My wife thought he was like a glorified maitre d’ who imagined himself bigger than he really is – but I found him polite and very gracious.”

Clarke says she’s heard that one too from a few people here, the likening of Trump to a jumped-up maître d’. And there it is, the perfect encapsulation of a class barrier never to be breached by Trump, and by extension the nearly 500 members of Mar-a-Lago, who may not be welcome at the Everglades or the B&T.

In many ways, Palm Beach is Trump’s ideal playground. He doesn’t simply seek attention, he craves confrontation and this subtropical barrier island off the Florida coast uniquely fits the bill.

Survive Sunday. If you can, enjoy it too.

British Brexit

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.

British Breakfast

Hi everybody, and welcome to another miscellany of European sense and nonsense. I’m focusing this week on how POTUS*’s various foreign policy initiatives are being perceived, and the verdicts are decidely mixed.

As is becoming usual, Patrick Cockburn has words of wisdom.

Donald Trump is often compared to Vladimir Putin by the media which detects ominous parallels between the two men as populist nationalist leaders. The message is that Trump with his furious attacks on the media would like to emulate Putin’s authoritarianism. There is some truth in this, but when it comes to the effect on US status and power in the world, the similarities are greater between Trump and Yeltsin than between Trump and Putin.

Trump does not drink alcohol, but his incoherent verbal onslaughts on Australia, Mexico and Sweden since he became President are strongly reminiscent of Yeltsin’s embarrassing antics. Both men won power as demagogic anti-establishment leaders who won elections by promising to reform and clear out corruption in the existing system. The result in Russia was calamitous national decline and the same thing could now happen in America.

It will be difficult for the US to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of “Fake News” simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.

This cannot go on very long without sizeably diminishing American global influence as its judgement and actions become so unpredictable. Over the last three quarters of a century, countries of all political hues – dictatorships and democracies, republics and monarchies – have wanted to be an ally of the US because it was the most powerful player in world affairs.

The election of Trump brings with it another negative but less tangible outcome that is already eating away at American primacy: the US will be not only divided but unable to focus on for the foreseeable future on anything other than the consequences of Trumpism. When US politicians, officials and media look at Russia, China, Ukraine, Iran, Israel or anywhere else in the world from Sweden to Australia, they will view them through a prism distorted by his preconceptions and fantasies.

Once it was smaller European countries like Ireland and Poland that were derided for an exaggerated and unhealthy preoccupation with their own problems. A Polish joke from the 1920s relates how an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Pole competed to write the best essay on the elephant. The Englishman described “elephant hunting in India”, the French wrote about “the elephant in love” and the Pole produced a lengthy paper on “the elephant and the Polish Question”. These days the Englishman would undoubtedly write about “the elephant and Brexit” and an American, if he was allowed to enter the competition, would write interminably about “the elephant and Donald Trump”.

In Switzerland’s NZZ, Eric Gujer considers how Trump’s confusing rhetoric about foreign affairs may run into difficulty because America’s long-term strategic interests don’t actually change all that much whover is in the White House:

The new American government considers NATO to be a useful thing, it keeps its distance from Russia, and it conforms to the status quo in Asia. While the administration is pursuing an ideologically impregnated agenda in domestic policy, it appears to have less fixed views on diplomatic and military matters. This gives the ministerial bureaucracy the opportunity to play out their experience and to continue proven traditions.

The presidential advisors to the Interior are on a crusade that has just begun. The foreign policy team consists of pragmatists who think in the pathways of Orthodox politics.

The attraction of election campaigns is that everyone can demand everything. Once in the government offices, the actors then quickly notice that some wishes are mutually exclusive. Someone who supports aggression towards Iran will find a deep friendship with Russia difficult. After all, Moscow and Tehran are allied combatants in Syria, and the Iranian military would like to intensify this cooperation, for example, through armaments deals.

Anyone who perceives North Korea and its missile tests as a threat cannot be completely aggressive with Beijing. After all, the Chinese are the only ones who can influence the Korean regime. And someone wanting to form an alliance with the Arab-Sunni states against the Islamic state does not do itself many favors by being Netanyahu’s poodle in the Palestine issue.

The new government has not yet formulated its priorities. Surprises can not be ruled out. But the expectation seems justified, that many answers will be rather conventional. Especially since an apparatus which is constantly busy dealing with its boss’s mental flashes develops only little impact.

Having no idea is not a sufficient prerequisite for a successful foreign policy. And even those who have an idea, still have to implement it. The Obama administration developed the concept of a turn to Asia with a lot of noise, but it remained largely at the level of announcements. There are enough pitfalls for ambitious strategists. Therefore, the probability of Trump’s team changing very little is not small. In foreign policy this would be an orderly result.

Not everyone thinks that would be a good idea. Giampaolo Rossi thinks that would just show how the military-industrial complex runs everything anyway. (Warning: this is a very odd piece.)

When politics (ie the Government and Parliament) is strong, legitimate and sovereign, the Deep State is kept at bay, under control and may even have a positive function of stability…
When politics is weak, the Deep State prevails over it, the conditions and blackmails becoming a sort of “shadow government” .. and it may even happen that the Deep State becomes itself the government.

When we complain of why governments change but never change anything in a country, it is because we do not perceive the immense power of the Deep State.

The Michael Flynn political elimination, the man that Donald Trump had put in charge of the National Security Council the right to reshape American foreign policy, is proof of the violent offensive that the Deep State is mounting against the US President.

The Deep State is the true Donald Trump enemy; the axis of the corrupt media system and the Soros-funded activist violence to scare the public, keeps America in the hands of ruthless elite.

We’ll see if Donald Trump will be able to resist the offensive that the Deep State has unleashed against him and against American democracy or whether he capitulates. If he can go down in history as a President or will become a mere puppet in the hands of the War Party as was Obama and Clinton would have been. Whether thanks to him America will again be a model of democracy for the world or the nation will remain the hostage of a criminal elite that in these nine years has produced humanitarian chaos and wars all over the Middle East to feed the geopolitical games and financial economic interests of Washington lobbies.

Gabriel Elefteriu thinks that the new National Security Adviser will have a significant effect:

Towards the end of his speech, the General also mentioned the need to “think in competitive terms again”, citing a recent essay by Nadia Schadlow that warned of the “serious political competitions underway for regional and strategic dominance”. This may turn out to be the most significant indicator of the change in American grand strategy which is likely to follow. A wider problem with Western strategic thinking has been at play: put simply, after the Cold War we stopped thinking about our adversaries in competitive terms, and switched to a “risk” or “threat-based” model; they did not.

Great power competition never stopped. We just chose to ignore it as the “unipolar moment” dawned and as the West – America especially – basked in its “peerless” status. We mothballed the sophisticated ability we had acquired during the Cold War for calculating military balances – or, as the Soviets called it, the “correlation of forces” – and for understanding the true “power” of our adversaries, in all its manifestations.

In conjunction with other fallacies of the kind enumerated by General McMaster, this has proven highly detrimental to America and the West’s strategic “performance” over the past fifteen years. Any risk-based formula is by definition un-strategic: among other drawbacks, such  neat categories of risk oversimplify a complex landscape; it takes a passive, short-term approach rather than dealing with underlying causes; and it struggles to consider threats in their full context. It is not difficult to see why such a way of looking at the world would blind Western strategists to the emergence of things like: “hybrid warfare”; the resurgence of Russian conventional military capability; or the expansion of Iran’s military footprint across the Middle East.

Most importantly, a risk-based approach makes it difficult to see the whole picture of an integrated enemy strategy which uses propaganda campaigns, proxies and other forms of power  alongside conventional forces. It is therefore of limited use in proposing effective counter-measures or preventing unwelcome surprises.

Dan O’Brien in the Irish Independent worries a lot about trade:

With the solitary exception of a period around the Iraq invasion, when elements within the first George W Bush administration contemplated a divide-and-conquer strategy vis-a-vis Europe, the US has encouraged European integration since its inceptions. It has done so because it believed a strong, coherent Europe was in its best interests – whether as a bulwark against the Soviets in the past or as a natural supporter of most US positions in global affairs today.

Trump is very different. His ‘America First’ vision of relations with other countries is based on one-to-one dealing, rather than on messier multilateral arrangements. His logic appears to be that because the US is more powerful than any other country, conducting relations bilaterally will mean he always has the upper hand. There is certainly a logic to this, but most scholars of international relations argue that exclusive bilateralism, even for a superpower, won’t work in a world as complex and interconnected as ours.

That Donald Tusk, the pro-American Pole who is president of the European Council, has publicly listed the Trump administration as a threat to Europe as great as Russia and terrorism speaks volumes about the concerns that exist. But it is not just multilateral-type structures that Trump has railed against. In speeches and tweets, he has aggressively lashed out against how the international economy functions, despite the US being one of the greatest beneficiaries of it over decades. Rather than believing that freely flowing trade and investment can result in gains for all, he takes a zero-sum game view of economic relations – what one country gains another must necessarily lose.

The longer term damage to the rules-based global trading system could be even more serious. For those who believe that the world needs global institutions and global governance structures to deal with global issues, the World Trade Organisation is pivotal. Unlike many other toothless international organisations, the WTO has a full-scale court structure whose rulings members accept. That includes the US, which is a regular litigant and complainant at the WTO in Geneva.

If the US were to reject an adverse finding by the WTO against a border tax or signal early in the process that it did not accept the jurisdiction of the body (Trump last summer described it as a “disaster”), then the linchpin of the entire international trading system would be in question.

One month into the Trump presidency, there is almost as much reason to believe that Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world will suffer negative consequences as there was on the day of his election. Hopes of a Trump-lite presidency have all but evaporated. Tumultuous times are ahead.

We are led to believe that Trump’s foreign policy is largely driven by the exciting Steve Bannon, so this piece from the Frankfurter Allgemeine by James Kirchick is particularly interesting. Helpfully, it’s in English already:

The defining ideological battle of our present moment can best be understood as a competition between two individuals: White House Senior Counselor Stephen Bannon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The fate of the Western world as we know it may very well depend on whose worldview succeeds.

Bannon, President Donald Trump’s most influential and powerful advisor, sees Western civilization locked in an eternal struggle with Islam. “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict,” he told a conference of conservative religious leaders assembled at the Vatican in 2014. “If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing.” Bannon is obsessed with war; references to battle a constant refrain of nearly every speech he’s delivered and interview he’s granted. “There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” he said in 2014, “we’re in a war of immense proportions,” a “global war against Islamic fascism.”

Unlike Bannon, who casually conflates the religion of 1.7 billion practicing Muslims with a radical variety of that faith bent on violence and subjugation, Merkel believes that Islam is compatible with Western democracy. In 2015, at the height of protests organized by the Dresden-based People Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), the Chancellor expressed her conviction that “Islam belongs to Germany” and that those joining the weekly demonstrations had “hatred in their hearts.” Later that year, in a move that would earn her the undying enmity of Bannon and the right-wing nationalist website he used to run, Breitbart.com, Merkel opened Germany’s doors to some 1 million mostly Muslim migrants. Whatever one thinks of that decision (and for what it’s worth, I believe it was misguided), it sprung from the best of intentions, namely, a belief that the democratic West has a duty to help those in need regardless of their religious affiliation.

Ironically, many Europeans would find much to like in Bannon’s economic philosophy, characterized as it is by a reverence for “enlightened capitalism” over “crony capitalism.” In his Vatican address, Bannon criticized the “state-sponsored capitalism” of Russia and China as well as the “Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism”, both of which, he argued, have enriched “the party of Davos” while leaving the majority of “working men and women” behind. Though his protectionism is anathema to devotees of the world’s greatest free trade zone, the European Union, Bannon otherwise advocates the sort of system embraced by the broad consensus of German politicians, business leaders, and regular citizens, the “social market economy”.

If Bannon is basically a Christian (or Social) Democrat on economics and an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist like Frank Gaffney on the question of Islam, he’s a Pat Buchanan-esque paleoconservative when it comes to national identity.

In the wake of Trump’s election, much has been said and written about how Germany in general, and Merkel in particular, are now the last remaining guardians of the liberal world order, a sentiment that Senator John McCain appeared to endorse over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference when he praised “the absolutely vital role that Germany and its honorable Chancellor, Chancellor Merkel, are playing in defense of the idea and the conscience of the West” and not so subtly chastised his own president for “flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.” Talk of Merkel being “leader of the free world” is rather simplistic and self-flattering; Germany does not possess anything near the military means necessary to assume such responsibility and the scandalous prosecution of a comedian for insulting Turkey’s authoritarian president undermines its commitment to free speech. But in the emerging confrontation between Bannonism and Merkelism that characterizes the struggle for the soul and direction of the Western world, there can be no question of which Weltanschauung must prevail.

And that’s all I’ve got about POTUS*. I’ve been much more interested in the two by-elections in Britain this week, in which the main opposition party lost a seat to the governing party — the first time that has happened since 1982 — and Labour held off the challenge from UKIP in the constituency said to have voted most heavily for Brexit, the UKIP candidate being the newish leader of the party Paul Nuttall.

Both by-elections are held, amongst the commentariat at least, to have been catastrophic for the parties coming second. Labour losing Copeland means that Corbyn’s got to go, and UKIP failing to gain Stoke shows that they are completely irrelevant now that we’ve had the referendum (and of course Corbyn and the Corbynistas regard their holding the seat as evidence that Corbyn should stay).

My take is that Corbyn may be completely useless, but that ditching him won’t do Labour much good because they have no idea what to do. British politics is now Brexit, Brexit, Brexit and fuck all else. Big city Labour were Remainers, small town and rural Labour Leavers. Big city Labour is pro-immigration, small town and rural Labour massively anti. Labour face annihilation outside the big cities, and there aren’t enough seats in big cities for them to get anywhere near a majority. In fact, there aren’t enough seats in big cities for them to maintain even their present position. Prime Minister May keeps making speeches about the awfulness of corporate fat cats and how the economy has to be made to work a lot better for the people who make just about enough to get along: one may doubt the sincerity (although, actually, I don’t), but the problem there is that Brexit is so all-consuming that the government haven’t got time to actually do anything about her rhetoric. But while she is saying that sort of thing, what do the Labour Party say which isn’t the same, given that in order to reconnect with voters, they need to offer proposals which make the economy work better for the people who are just about getting along?

Which is also UKIP’s problem. They’ve achieved the Brexit vote they wanted, but since that was the only thing uniting them in the first place, they have no idea at all. And repellent though Farage is, he at least has a personality. Without him, UKIP are a pretty uninteresting bunch. Such policy as they have on non-Brexit matters is a ragbag of unconnected proposals on a range of issues: one can easily imagine that it was drawn up by a conference at which various obsessives each got up and talked convincingly about their one issue and nobody else knew enough to argue against them and so that’s what they all went along with. So they want rainbows but not unicorns (which give you cancer anyway) and to cut welfare spending overall but spend more on each component of welfare spending.

The Lib Dems are virtuous Remoaners and are getting no traction, and the SNP are psyching themselves up to fight another independence referendum on the interesting argument that because Scotland’s major trading partner is about to leave the EU, it will benefit the Scottish economy to join the EU and put up tariff barriers with England and Wales, and leave the sterling area for the eurozone, when the euro is still a weaker currency than the pound.

Which means there’s no coherent opposition to the Conservative government, which is waking up to the horrible realities of how incredibly difficult Brexit is going to be and the fact that if you divert half the Civil Service to sorting Brexit out, that leaves half the government’s other work not getting done.

And pics of Mother Theresa holding Donald’s tiny hand because he’s afraid of stairs aren’t really a substitute.

Heigh-ho.

 

Great British Breakfast

 

For reasons I shan’t go into, I spent most of Friday trying to undo the damage caused by a piece of software going haywire at work and am really not of a mind to spend a lot of time preparing breakfast this week. A quick skim round a number of outlets reveals that they’re just about all featuring just one story — Trump’s press conference — and they all have just about the same reaction — WTF???!?

So here’s a few English-language bits I’ve managed to throw together.

I’ll start with something boringly sensible, the opinion of the ever-reliable Patrick Cockburn:

Self-absorbed and irrational Donald Trump may well be, but on Thursday he held what was probably the most interesting and entertaining White House press conference ever. These are usually grimly ritualistic events in which select members of the media establishment, who have often come to see themselves as part of the permanent government of the US, ask predictable questions and get equally predictable replies.

For now, Trump reminds one more of a theatrical populist like Silvio Berlusconi than anything resembling a proto-fascist or authoritarian demagogue like Benito Mussolini. This perception may change as he secures his grip on the levers of power as he promises to do, blaming leaks from the US intelligence services on holdovers from the Obama administration.

Sound advice on this was given 300 years ago in Dr John Arbuthnot’s wonderful treatise on “the Art of Political Lying”, published in 1712, which warns that once a false fact or lie is lodged in the public mind, it may be impossible to persuade people that it is untrue except by another lie. He says, as an example, that if there is a rumour that the pretender to the British throne in exile in France has come to London, do not contradict it by saying he was never in England. Rather “you must prove by eyewitnesses that he came no farther than Greenwich, but then went back again.” He warns against spreading lies about a political leader which are directly contrary to their known character and previous behaviour. Better to give credibility to a lie by keeping within realms of credibility, by blackening the name of a prince known to be merciful “that he has pardoned a criminal who did not deserve it.”

Arbuthnot assumes that political parties lie as a matter of course, and that the only way for the public to limit the power of governments is to lie as much as they do. He says that, just as ministers use political lying to support their power, “it is but reasonable that the people should employ the same weapon to defend themselves, and pull them down.”

Could this be the fate of Trump? He became president because false facts fatally damaged Hillary Clinton – and now the same thing is happening to him.

In the Irish Independent, Dan O’Brien also plays down the comparisons with 1930s fascists:

Although history can always provide context and sometimes sounds warnings, its lessons can also be mislearnt. Badly learnt lessons often result in bad analysis. Bad analysis usually leads to bad decisions, something other countries need to consider when weighing up how to respond to the very considerable threats and challenges Trump poses.

To see why the Nazi parallel is ill-judged, consider what Trump would have to do in the short term to match Hitler.

Among the first things he would have to do is to convince Congress to enact laws allowing for the closing down of media organisations he claims propagate ‘fake news’, such as the ‘New York Times’ and CNN. He would have to use parts of the police and security apparatus to imprison, torture and ‘disappear’ political opponents. He would have to fire or intimidate not one but thousands of federal and state-level judges so that the US’s independent judiciary cannot check illegal and/or unconstitutional executive orders and legislation. He would even have to cancel next year’s congressional elections. These are exactly the sorts of measures Hitler implemented within a short period of coming to power.

But because the US today is not Germany of the 1930s in many profound and important ways, such outcomes are unlikely. Perhaps the most important difference is the strength and durability of democracy in America.

How the American people respond to Trump is one thing. How countries like Ireland respond is another matter. For long-time allies of the US to start acting towards it as if it were Nazi Germany would push the world in a more dangerous direction than it is already going, playing into the hands of those around Trump who seek escalation, conflict and permanent crisis.

The time to act against the Trump administration will be if it takes measures which go against the interests of Ireland and other friendly countries and if he continues down the path of actions which do not chime with democratic values.

Trump poses very real threats and challenges to his own country and the rest of the world, but at this juncture drawing parallels with Hitler are at best a distraction and at worst counter-productive.

Robert Fisk is a very erratic pundit — he’s wonderful if you want a wholly incorrect analysis of events in the Middle East, for instance — but here’s a piece which makes the odd useful point:

That’s what disqualifies all the Hitler parallels, even the Mussolini comparisons, although the comical side of Italian fascist imperium is clearly there. It’s not that Trump is no longer terrifying. He should be. Nor that he is mentally unstable – he clearly is. It’s that his performances are so rivetingly zany, so absolutely inside the prison of the absurd that I swear some of the human race will commit suicide when he’s gone.

I’m still not sure why the Trump shows have such depth. Maybe it’s because of the revolting seriousness of all around him. This thing, after all, has a cast of thousands. While the Chief Clown froths in the East Wing, his Attendant Lords blather away at immensely important conferences in Europe, desperately trying to assure the EU, Nato, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the World Bank, Isis, al-Qaeda, you name it, that nothing has changed. Everyone, both the American panjandrums and the European leaders and the Nato generals, even poor Sergei Lavrov, all pretend that this is quite normal. They act the part.

One of them, only slightly less insane than Trump since she is leading her own country over the Brexit cliff, has even told the Chief Lunatic that Her Majesty the Queen is inviting him for a state visit. There has been nothing like this since Alice in Wonderland. Across the globe, they all shake hands and curtsy and grovel and fawn just as they did when Good King Obama ruled the world.

For none of these creatures must give the slightest clue that they know. That’s why the whole thing is so addictive. Everyone – Mad Dog Mattis, Rex Exxon Tillerson, Angela We-Can-Do-This Merkel, Theresa Goodbye May – all have to pretend that absolutely nothing unusual is taking place.

They must not for a moment even hint that they know what we all know: that back at the White House, the President of the United States of America has dressed up in a green smock, stood on his head, smoked a joint in front of CNN and proclaimed that his hutch of performing rabbits are capable of playing Beethoven on three pianos at the same time.

And that’s why the whole thing is so addictive. This is not the ultimate reality show – and it’s not Adolf in the West Wing or Benito in the Rose Garden. It’s Punch and Judy set to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

For how much longer can our colleagues stand in front of the White House or freeze in front of Nato conferences, parroting to us about what “officials say” (the most overused clause in US media history) with their usual self-assurance and self-regard when we all know that the game is up? For they, too, are still pretending that everything is normal.

But now we know they know nothing – because the President of the United States of America is completely bonkers, crackers, insane, out-of-kilter-in-the-brain and certifiably over the top. He’s not only a disgrace to the nation. Far worse, he’s a disgrace to the press. So it’s obviously in the national interest that he goes.

Sean O’Grady has a mildly different view:

Amateur psychology, maybe, but one can easily detect the same sort of inner fragility in Nixon than in the outwardly bombastic and ever-boastful Trump. The current President, too, over-estimates the power of his office (Nixon went so far as to try to develop a doctrine that “if the president does it, it’s legal” when he was in power).

Why else, other than some deep-seated insecurity, does Trump keep wanting to remind everyone about how he won the campaign, despite the media? Why does he feel the need, long after the campaign proper is over, to carry on appearing at rallies to adoring, chanting crowds? Like his poring over his media coverage, or getting wound up about Alec Baldwin’s hilarious renditions of him on Saturday Night Live, President Trump should have better things to do. He seems to be forgetting to get on with his sometimes tedious day job, and, as a result, making the sort of elementary errors that Nixon did, albeit in a different sphere.

Nixon was an experienced figure who had met and learned much from most of the world’s leaders, from Winston Churchill to the Shah of Iran, before he was elected President, who had served as Vice President, Congressman and Senator, who was a gifted lawyer and debated with Nikita Khrushchev on TV, and had a much surer touch about his cabinet appointments – Henry Kissinger, for example. Trump doesn’t have quite the same experience, skill or credentials. Both men would keep a faculty of psychologists busy, but essentially Trump is Nixon without the brains. That’s not so smart, as Trump himself might say.

Brian Klaas in the conservative Telegraph has another slightly different angle (you can tell I’m scraping around, can’t you?):

Thursday’s press conference was a remarkable moment in American history. It showcased something new: the White House of one. Trump made a series of false claims, berated the press for doing their jobs, and returned to the boisterous and combative back-and-forth that delighted his base on the campaign trail. He amped up his labeling of legitimate media outlets from “fake news” to “very fake news.” He trumpeted his electoral victory. And all along, the only thing that seemed to matter to him was Donald Trump. There was no talk of policy solutions to help a single mum raising three kids on two jobs. There was no talk of the downtrodden middle class, robbed of their American Dream by festering inequality. Instead, Trump’s overriding theme was that he was a winner, unfairly victimized by the losers in the press.

This arena – jousting with the press – is Trump’s comfort zone. Unfortunately, his return to his comfort zone pushed everyone else – Republicans, Democrats, foreign leaders – out of theirs. Republicans are panicking behind closed doors. World leaders are panicking in the open. President Trump looked way out of his league for the hardest job on Earth.

Of course, partisanship is a hell of a drug. Trump’s combative authoritarian approach to attacking the press will play exceedingly well in Rust Belt Ohio and Deep South Alabama. There is no question that his hardcore supporters will cheer the attacks on the mainstream media as long overdue. But the problem for Trump, and the world, is that economies don’t thrive, national security isn’t achieved, and justice is not served based on galvanizing a political base.

The campaign is over. He won. And yet Thursday’s press conference showed that Trump is not yet ready to govern. For anyone who understands the complexity of running the most powerful government on the planet, it was a 77 minute advertisement of Trump’s woeful unpreparedness. But as Trump sets off to Florida today for a campaign-style rally on Saturday, he will trade a tough crowd in the press room for an adoring one outside Washington. And the crowd noise he is sure to encounter, the chants, the cheering – those are the lifeblood that sustains the White House of one.

In the Herald Scotland, Kevin McKenna is concerned that exposing Trump’s lies will do no good:

Mr Trump knows that his claim about his margin of victory in the electoral college even now is being accepted as fact in a bar-room debate somewhere in Indiana in a community where sales and online subscriptions to The Washington Post and the New York Times are not high. Ah, we liberals are wont to point out, Mr Trump’s approval figures in the first month of his presidency are the lowest since Richard Nixon’s.

I doubt these will cause The Donald to have many sleepless nights. Despite his claims of vote-rigging, he rests secure in the knowledge that he accessed the White House with around three million votes fewer than his opponent and contrary to the predictions of opinion polls right up until his moment of triumph.

If he lasts the full stretch of even one term it’s the fond belief of the liberal elites that the Republican party will have sustained such grievous damage in the process that it will be virtually unelectable for a generation.

Yet, what if it’s the reputation of the American press that suffers most damage, to the extent that it is simply dismissed by that section of the American electorate that opted for Mr Trump?

Such an outcome will give succour to every reactionary right-wing Republican demagogue who fancies a shot at running the country. “To hell with the facts,” will be the strategy. “Facts are for the Post and the Times that will twist them to suit their liberal agendas. We deal in the truth, and the truth is what we say it is, thanks to Donald J.”

This would be the real tragedy of Mr Trump’s alt-right adventure. The independence and authority of the American press helped bring an end to the Vietnam War. During Watergate, the Post withstood a barrage of officially-sanctioned threats to its future and to the lives of its ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before finally bringing down a crooked president.

Yet, without the scrutiny of its robust press, it would be more tempestuous still. This is where Mr Trump wants to take us and why he is constantly chipping away at the one estate that might yet arrest him on that wretched journey.

Again in Herald Scotland, Catriona Stewart looks forward to Trump’s planned UK visit:

Dear Donald,

I have a confession to make. I signed the petition calling for your invitation to come to the UK on a state visit to be rescinded.

It was a big mistake. The bigliest. On reflection, we don’t like bans. Maybe the other 1,857,847 signatories feel it was a tremendous mistake too. Such a mistake.

In fact, I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward to greeting you. There will be lots of greeting during your visit. The most.

Just this month, thousands of people, millions of them, came out across Scotland with special banners hailing your presidency. Around 1.5 million, the same as your inauguration. They came out in the rain. It was a hurricane.

They’ll definitely do it again. Thousands, I didn’t say millions.

You might see people carrying signs calling you a roaster. A roaster is a real compliment in Scotland. The highest compliment, actually. It means that you’re so hot you’re nuclear. And Donald, if I may, you sure are a nuclear option. You may also hear yourself called a rocket, a zoomer, a screamer, a nugget and a bam. These are all terms of respect, particularly President Bawbag. Or, for short, SCROTUS.

You don’t have to worry about FAKE NEWS in Scotland. We’re already alert to it. We have a dedicated consortium of patriots who attack the media and uncover conspiracy theories. They too would like to build a wall along the country south of the border.

Please, Donald, come to Scotland. We’ll all be waiting with a Glasgow kiss.

David McWilliams thinks that the economy will prove to be what really puts the skids under Trump:

Mr Trump’s team believes that the economy can grow to 3pc or 4pc and therefore believe that the Fed shouldn’t raise rates too soon. But if the Fed goes along with Mr Trump and is seen to be captured by his will and is seen to be soft on inflation, the US bond market will sell off, driving up long-term rates.

But here is the dilemma.

This conflict between the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in the US is one of the oldest in the book. In 1981/82, Paul Volcker hiked interest rates in response to Ronald Reagan’s tax-cutting start. Mr Volcker said he had to beat inflation and the ensuing recession blighted Reagan’s first three years.

Reagan backed down.

In 1992/3, Bill Clinton was pitted against Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Mr Clinton fought the election on the promise of tax cuts for the middle classes.

Mr Greenspan took Mr Clinton’s economic guru, Robert Rubin, aside and told him firmly that if Mr Clinton cut taxes, he’d raise rates in retaliation. If, on the other hand, Mr Clinton reneged on his electoral promise, Mr Greenspan would do nothing and long-term interest rates would fall, driving up stock and house prices and driving the Clinton boom via higher asset prices.

Mr Clinton backed down.

Now will Mr Trump back down, or will he see this as yet more technocratic, unelected insiders – the central bankers – frustrating the people’s president?

What would this mean?

It would mean Mr Trump interfering in the appointment of future Fed governors and ultimately Ms Yellen’s successor. If he is happy to go after the spooks in the CIA, I’m sure he will not be scared of a few economists in the Fed. After all, they represent to him the ultimate insiders – civil servants who are unelected. He may well make them his next target.

If that happens, all hell will break loose on Wall Street because, after all, the near 30-year boom in American asset prices has been driven on the understanding that the Fed always wins.

What if that no longer holds true?

Then all bets are off.

In the Scotsman, Thomas Smart reflects on life as an expat:

I’m an American. I now live in the United Kingdom. Eleven years ago, I left the baking red heat of the Arizona desert for the soggy green hills of Scotland. The reason for my emigration was an excuse as old as humanity: love. I’d met a girl from Scotland. We got married in a cross-Atlantic swirl of confused accents and too much whisky. We bought a house. I got a job. We now have two young children.I like living in the UK. I like the people and I like the place. Yes, February is bleak and my tan has long since faded, but Great Britain has offered me opportunities which I would have never had in the United States. I can see a doctor – for free. I was able to pursue a postgraduate degree for a very reasonable price – free. When I went to get a prescription for an infection the pharmacist told me the cost, “Free”. I still remember when my first employer told me my holiday entitlement was 30 days. I was baffled. I wondered, do these people realise they’re giving me over a month off, paid? Beyond the constant drizzle, I began to understand that there was a cultural divide I would need to work hard to bridge.


The America I left didn’t feel xenophobic and isolationist. Admittedly, racism is a part of American history and still very much exists. However, I never thought the American people would vote to literally wall themselves in. The America I thought I knew wasn’t misogynistic and mean. Yes, equality was a long way off but I never believed a politician could openly bragg about abusing women and still win power. In short, America has always had its flaws, but the radical now seems to have become mainstream – it’s as if those on the fringe have somehow gotten hold of the microphone.I’ve not been back to the United States for four years. Between the cost of flights and the kids, it’s been too difficult to make the journey. The election of Trump has made me wonder, if I do ever go back to the US, will it be anything like the country I remember? It’s very easy to view the past through rose tinted spectacles, and perhaps, over the years, I’ve created a sanitised view of the America I want to remember. But I do remember it as a happy place, as a place which was, for lack of a better word, good. It seems like, somewhere between the mass shootings, violent police officers, and a megalomaniac in the White House, everything has changed. I wonder where all the kindness went? While I’m sure that the earth is the same size it was eleven years, ago, it just feels like home is much further away.

I’ll finish with an important piece from the Southend News Network, one of Britain’s premier news sites:

A spokesperson for Donald Trump’s administration has confirmed that the CIA’s list of approved methods of torture has been replaced by an executive order that authorises the use of Stacey Solomon voice recordings.

According to the new ruling, this means that all levels of suspects will be subjected to 60-second audio files of the Essex TV personality’s many appearances.

the President decided that it was time to look for a new mental or emotional method that would be just as effective, and at that point somebody handed him a tape of an episode of The Xtra Factor.’

‘He noticed that her vocal delivery of ending one thought and beginning a new thought simultaneously at varying speeds was ‘giving him the motherf*cker of all headaches,’ and just 20 seconds later he was crying on the floor and getting ready to email our nuclear missile launch codes to The Kremlin.’

‘Thankfully someone was there to turn off the recording and intercept him.’

‘We carried out a test interrogation on a registered terror suspect last night, and within three cycles he had denounced Allah, shaved off his beard and was preparing for a new career selling bicycles and spreading the word of The Good Book.’

Although Washington is delighted at the success of the trial, there may be some difficult times ahead after the United Nations confirmed that the move may be violating a number of clauses in the Geneva Convention.

You may find it interesting to peruse some more of SNN’s stories, which often give an interesting new angle to current events. It’ll be one way to occupy your Sunday.

Great British Breakfast and Euro-punditry

This is an experiment. Since June last year, I’ve been doing a weekly dive into the European press on DKos, originally to cover the US election, but since then to try and cover European views of America, plus keeping an eye on elections taking place in Europe – my view being that following elections is the simplest way of getting some kind of insight into how a country’s politics work.

I’m only fluent in German, but I have a moderate knowledge of French and can just about parse the other Western European languages. So the excerpts which follow have had at least some human attention, though the links to non-English language sources take you to GoogleTranslate’s version, which is sometimes gobbledegook, but is usually good enough for you to get the gist of it.

This being my first diary here, I have little idea if I’m doing it right, but I’ve simply copied my DK post as is. So I’ll be interested both in how it looks and what you think of it.