Michael Holmans

The last Sunday Breakfast

I regret to say that this will be the last diary in this form. The immediate reason for this is that I have other engagements on the next two Saturdays which will preclude my being able to do diaries, but above that is the fact that compiling these has stopped being fun and become a chore.

Just as in the UK, 2017 has been a year of governmental non-achievement. The incompetent bunch of crooks, ideologues and nitwits who occupy the nation’s highest offices huff and puff but all they’ve actually managed to do to the law is cancel some regulations which threaten the pecuniary interests of some of their donors. While this is perhaps a relief given what they would like to have done if they could muster the votes, it doesn’t make for riveting pundit commentary.

Breakfast and Euro-comment

So POUTS doesn’t think much of the Iran agreement. As a result, a fair number of people don’t think much of POUTS. Well, if we’re going to be strictly accurate, it’s not as though most of said people thought much of him before, but they now think even less.

On these occasions, It’s usually sensible to take the thoughts of Patrick Cockburn:

As President Trump withdraws certification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, commentators across the world struggled for words to adequately convey their outrage and contempt. A favourite term to describe Trump is as “a wrecking ball”, but the phrase suggests a sense of direction and capacity to strike a target which Trump does not possess.

The instant that Trump decertifies the deal struck by President Obama in 2015, the US becomes a lesser power and Iran a greater one, because he will confirm the belief that America is led by an egoist motivated by ignorant prejudice. Accusations of mental derangement have always been part of common currency of political abuse, but there is a growing belief among international leaders that in Trump’s case there might be something to it, though they have few ideas about what they should do about this.

Their bemusement is understandable given that the situation is so bizarre. In the past, highly neurotic individuals were most like to gain power as hereditary monarchs, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany being a prime example. Full blown psychoses are less common, though madness of Charles VI of France and Henry VI of England in the late Middle Ages precipitate both countries into civil wars. What is extraordinary about Trump’s all-consuming egomania, or what some call “malignant narcissism”, is that it did not prevent his rise to power.

Iranian leaders may calculate that, short of all-out war, they come out the winner: the US-led coalition of states that once isolated Iran has disintegrating and today it is the US that risks isolation. Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China and the UN nuclear watchdog all say that Iran has abided by the terms of the agreement. The ability of the US to line up all the other big powers in support of a deal brokered by itself was proof that the US was a superpower; its abandonment will have the opposite effect. As if this was not damaging enough to the US, turning over the whole mess to a dysfunctional Congress only highlights the implosion of US influence in the world.

The Iranians are sensibly saying very little, presumably calculating that nothing they do will be quite so damaging to US interests as what Trump is doing. The true destabiliser in the Middle East is not Iran but Trump himself.

Of course, he hasn’t actually withdrawn from the Iran agreement yet. All he’s actually done is said he doesn’t like it. Clemens Wergin looks at the saving of face:

Trump is about keeping his face. Every three months, he has to confirm against the US Congress that Iran adheres to the terms of the agreement, which makes it look bad on its voters at regular intervals.

Therefore, Trumps employees now had to design a little pocket game. The task: How do you announce the deal, without really denouncing him and dismissing Iran from his obligations? His advisors have now found a way that appeals to the President.

Trump no longer wants to certify that Tehran is fulfilling the agreement. At the same time, however, America does not rise from it either. The formula is that Iran may not be right against the letter of the agreement, but against its spirit. This would mean that the Congress would then have to decide with which measures America should react. The Trump government, however, does not wish the parliamentarians to terminate the agreement, but rather to formulate conditions for Iran.

The situation in Syria is similarly contradictory. The unwillingness of both the Obama and Trump governments, the Russians, as well as the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who had allied themselves with Tehran, has now led the Assad / Tehran / Moscow / Hezbollah partners to control more and more parts of Syria. Through the complete dependency of Assad of Tehran, the Iranians have managed to establish an almost continuous sphere of influence from Iran (via Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) to the Mediterranean Sea and move dangerously close to Israel on the Syrian border in the Golan.

Restraining this influence would require a far more robust American intervention in the region and in the Syrian civil war. And it is questionable whether Trump, who so far is based on less than on US involvement in the Middle East, is really willing to do so.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Oliver Kühn considers the wider failure of POUTS as a foreign policy actor:

American President Donald Trump has embraced the foreign policy principle which he propagated in the election campaign and whichwas also one of the reasons why he has been elected to the highest office in the United States: America First. For Trump, the United States has been used for years and has been pushed round by countries, both allies and opponents. This would finally change under him as president, he promised.

With these announcements he had beaten the foreign policy establishment in Washington and the allies of the United States over the head: it broke radically with the politics of his predecessor. While Barack Obama was still interested in multilateral solutions and wanted to take a back seat from the background, Trump simply wants to do whatver he thinks serves the United States the most. Whether allies agree with him, he does not care.

It is no surprise, then, that his foreign policy seems to be, above all, to turn the achievements of Obama back.

The North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un he calls “Little Rocket Man” and has often threatened to use harder means than just diplomacy. What he means by this, however, he has never clarified and so far his words have not been followed by any deeds. If we follow Trump’s logic, this approach is also an attempt to keep nuclear threats away from the United States. His unilateral excursions, however, unsettle possible negotiating partners and do not appear to have intimidated Pyongyang. Rather, his behavior awakens fears of a war. The republican senator Bob Corker, for example, accused him of leading the country into a Third World War. Comparisons are drawn between Trump and Wilhelm II, the last German emperor who led the Reich into the First World War.

The European allies of the United States are now puzzling what to do with the American president. On the one hand, he described NATO as superfluous in the election campaign and put the cat among the Europeans’ pigeons. However, he still calls for the NATO partners to spend more on their defense, which is why the two percent target adopted at the summit in Wales should be respected. Since Great Britain is occupied with herself by Brexit, Germany and France will have to jump into the breach and have to assume a greater leadership role.

The only country that to Trump does not appear to be a competitor is, fatally, the only one that has so far been shown to have intervened in the internal affairs of the United States: Russia.

So far, this approach has hardly borne fruit. Rather, Trump has exacerbated some problems with his departure from many years of American foreign policy, see North Korea, and created others, see climate agreement. But his followers probably do not care. They like Trump to take a tough stance. For this they have elected him to “make America great again.” Since the consent of his supporters seems to be the only thing that interests the American president, there will probably be no change in policy in the foreseeable future.

It’s not just Iran and North Korea, of course. He’s also getting annoyed with NAFTA, as Suzanne Lynch reports:

In the months since his election as president of the United States, Donald Trump has been assailed by critics for not following through on his key promises. But behind the drama and intrigue of the Trump White House, the administration has been making progress on several policy priorities that could have ramifications long after Trump leaves office.

Take Nafta. The North American Free Trade Agreement that was signed in 1994 between the United States, Canada and Mexico was enemy number one during the Trump presidential campaign, with candidate Trump dismissing it as the “worst trade deal ever”. Since assuming office, the Trump team has been busy working on dismantling it, officially notifying Congress in May that it was seeking to renegotiate the deal.

With negotiators aiming to reach a deal before Mexico’s elections next July, pressure is on to find a compromise. In the meantime, business groups are watching nervously.

“Withdrawal from Nafta would put at stake millions of American jobs in every sector of the US economy, the competitiveness of US-produced goods and services, and our country’s standing as a global economic leader,” said the influential business lobby group, Business Roundtable, this week.

It will be hoping a compromise is reached – and fast.

POUTS’s ambition is obviously to become the Billy No-Mates among world leaders. Quite how this will MAGA is a complete mystery.

And of course there’s now the withdrawal from UNESCO,which provoked this editorial from Le Monde:

In less than a year, the United States has already withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement , is preparing to undermine the Vienna agreement on the Iranian nuclear and, followed by Israel , announced, on Thursday, 12 October, that they would leave Unesco at the end of 2018. Each time, the United Nations system is weakened and multilateralism is shaken when it should be strengthened .

Donald Trump is true to his campaign promises. He laughs at the sketch of the “international community” represented by the United Nations, the only organization to have a way of international legitimacy because of its universality. Trump believes only in the relations of strength between some of the world’s great – the rest is indifferent to him.

It will be said that the withdrawals mentioned above are not of equal importance. Global warming and the fight against nuclear proliferation are part of the quasi-existential emergency. But despite all its many shortcomings, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – which is to have a new Directorate General in the coming days – has more than ever a role to play in a world plagued by politico-religious extremism, complicism and, often, a questioning of science.

It remains the symbol of an America that rejects the laborious and thankless path of multilateralism. It consists in seeking together solutions to the pathologies of the planet – in the difficult respect of the sovereignty of each other, the great and the small. Mr. Trump’s way amounts to destroying the very system that the United States set up in the aftermath of the Second World War.

One wonders what else there is left for POUTS to leave, or at least threaten to.

Not that he’s confining himself to fucking up America’s foreign policy. David Usborne sees him doing the same at home:

Sulky America is out, not playing any more and we don’t know whether to snicker or sob. The repercussions at home will be many – dented pride now, dented profits soon. A talent drain is sure to ensue, unless the situation is reversed. But that can’t happen for four years. Or eight.

OK. America not showing up for the World Cup in Russia next year has nothing to do with President Grump. They got beat by Trinidad and Tobago last week and their qualification dreams were shattered. (More than a dream – ESPN, the sports network, had, until Tuesday night, put the chances of the US team getting through at 97 per cent.) But still, you could almost imagine Trump on the stump last year: “FIFA is the most corrupt sports body in the history of the world. The worst. It’s horrible. When I am elected I will withdraw America from the World Cup”.

Some political leaders fret about being trapped by pledges foolishly made to voters. Lordy, did I really say I’d hold a referendum? By all the evidence, Trump is not that kind of politician. There isn’t anything he said on the campaign trail that he isn’t gagging to get done or, at the very least, create the impression they are getting done. With some, that’s proving difficult. Like the wall. And draining the swamp, which isn’t going well at all. On those issues where there is an obvious political downside to action, he doesn’t seem to see it. Or just ignores it.

Take Obamacare. Last week saw Trump threw two grenades at the Affordable Care Act passed in the first term of his predecessor. Essentially, they were deliberate acts of sabotage. If he took special pleasure doing so, it’s because probably the worst moments of his presidency so far came when Republicans in Congress repeatedly failed to repeal and replace the law – as promised. He had made the same commitment and thought he’d finally found a way to do it.

But having taken those steps – one allowing small businesses to group together to offer insurance plans outside of the strictly controlled Obamacare framework and the other ending federal subsidies to help the poorest purchase plans under the law – he will also have to now take responsibility if the health insurance industry now goes into a tailspin and premiums skyrocket, as is likely now to happen. Blaming Democrats and Obama will no longer do.

And, politically speaking, so far so good. His base is celebrating. Trump belongs to them and he has made good in as many days on two big things, Obamacare and Iran. Or started to.

Yet, if there is peril with what he did about Obamacare, something far more dire threatens on the Iran front. He did not rescind it, passing the baton to Congress… But that will not be easy, not by a long chalk, especially where 60 votes in the Senate would be required. That means Democrats joining hands with the Republicans on the issue.
Trump, however, stated that if Congress fails to do as he is asking, he will unilaterally pull the US from the deal. The implications of that are not pretty. The US would be isolated from its allies. Iran would feel emboldened to take its own exit from the deal and resume whatever it was doing before in the nuclear field. America’s credibility seeking to negotiate any similar deals with other countries – North Korea is one candidate – would be shot.

None of that is good. Not for the world and ultimately not for Trump either. But he slept well last night knowing he’d made his base happy doing what he said he’d do.

POUTS being a loose cannon causes uncertainty, for obvious reasons. This is now having ramifications for the world economy, as Arnaud Leparmentier explains:

“There’s an elephant in the room. European Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici summarizes the unspoken meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Washington on Thursday, 12 October: the global economy is doing better, actually much better , with a widespread or almost universal recovery of growth in the world , but uncertainties about US policy pose risks to the planet .

First concern, the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve (Fed, US central bank). Immense amounts of capital have been injected into the economy to curb the crisis, but central banks are putting an end to their unconventional policies and are attempting to return to normalcy.

Second concern, the commercial policy of Donald Trump against a background of populism. The negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have tightened sharply, with Donald Trump threatening to come out on Wednesday (October 11th) during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Washington. Posture trading or real risk? Again, unpredictability is total. The US administration has so far remained in the multilateral trading framework, but it is weaponizing its gun on many topics: threat of exit from the Alena, proposal of unilateral sanctions on Chinese steel or on Korean washing machines , blocking the appointment of dispute arbitration panels to the World Trade Organization. No one can rule out a crisis by January.

Third concern, US fiscal and budgetary policy. The case gave rise to a clash between the IMF and the Trump administration, which accuses the bank of wanting the failure of its reform. Lagarde recalled that her bank was in favor of a tax reform in the United States which would lead to “a simplification of the system, a reduction of the rates and the elimination of deductions that multiply at the request of various and various lobbies” . But, she added, “we must not create deficits in the medium term” .

Overall, US unpredictability led the IMF to lower its growth forecasts between April and October (2.3% instead of 2.5% expected in 2018): it had during the election of Donald Trump integrated its infrastructure spending or tax reform programs. However, in this period of economic rebound, the major risk is geopolitical : the return of war with the outbreak of an American conflict with North Korea and Iran .

I’ll finish this week with a piece from Anna Sauerbrey looking at how to involve young people in politics, provoked by the observation that German political parties are having enormous difficulty with it:

The interest in ideas on how shrinking can be stopped should therefore be great, now that the peoples’ parties are sorting out and trying to digest their choice. And that’s probably why I’m interested in a meeting with Howard Dean . Howard Dean served as head of the US Democrats until 2009, previously as governor of Vermont, and has been a policy consultant since then. This week, Dean, at the invitation of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, met politicians and journalists, including, among other things, his latest project: Dean supported ” Onward Together, ” an initiative of Hillary Clinton, founded in May . Clinton wants to support grassroots organizations financially and organizationally, who devote themselves to “progressive targets”, says the website. One might also say that it wants to tap the political energy of the young anti-Trump opposition for the Democrats.

After the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, the US has seen an unprecedented political movement, mainly by young people under and around 30. “This is their French Revolution,” says Dean. They were demonstrating at airports, when Trump imposed entry restrictions on Muslims shortly after official entry. They also loudly protested against the abolition of the Paris Climate Agreement and the announcement that the residency status of 800,000 children of illegal migrants should be terminated. For themselves: ​​most have nothing to do with parties. The young Anti-Trump movement is organized in campaigns such as “Indivisible”, “Flippable” or “Swing left”.

“Indivisible” was founded by several former employees of Democratic congresspeople. In a kind of handbook they give the thousands of small groupings that are part of it, a guide for political influence: start petitions, pressurize parliamentarians through calls, make inquiries. ” Flippable ” and ” Swing left ” specifically supports candidates in states and districts that are on the brink between Democrats and Republicans. They all have in common: they are ad hoc alliances designed for short-term political goals, rather than long-term strategic or substantive changes.

The model is certainly not immediately transferable to Germany. But here, too, many young people are politicizing themselves because of the arrival of the AfD in the Bundestag. A few thousand have already entered into parties. However, it is worthwhile to think about formats that also allow for an ad hoc participation that integrates existing action groups. Completely without local party structures.

I’ll further observe that similar concerns are abroad in Britain. We too have long-established parties with long-established traditions and long-established general outlooks, which also have entrenched histories of things which they regard as inviolable. The difficulty is that the younger generations can’t find a party which they properly agree with as a result. Among the older generations, people who support X usually also support Y and Z and are antipathetic to A, B & C. Among younger generations, support for X may well be accompanied by support for Y, but it’s more likely that X supporters also support B & C. (No, I’m not going to adumbrate what each of these things are, but if you’ve tried any cross-generational conversation, you have probably been surprised by the differing contents of the generational bundles.)

I’m not entirely convinced that the political party as we knew it in the 20th century is a sensible structure for pursuing political goals in the 21st. Admittedly, I have even less idea about what would be a sensible structure; it behoves some people with more imagination than me to come up with it.

Breakfast with POUTS

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, the European press show little sympathy. Horror, yes, because Europeans are quite able to understand how dreadful the massacre was, but the time for sympathy with America for mass-shooting atrocities is long past. It is perfectly obvious that America doesn’t care in the slightest about them; the only actual reaction to a mass shooting is an uptick in weapon sales — accompanied after this one by an increase in demand for the bump-stock accessories which made it that much more lethal. In today’s America, mass shootings are simply advertisements.

British Breakfast and Euro-comment

I’m going to begin this week with an entire article from Der Spiegel which nails what’s going on with laser accuracy. Take it away, Roland Nelles:

It is the big stars of the American sport that Donald Trump has got involved with this time: Stephen Curry and LeBron James , the basketball players, football aces like Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and over 200 of his colleagues are outraged by the president. With a few tweets , Trump has triggered a dispute that divides the country – once again -. The crazy thing is: it’s not about sports or the national anthem. At least not for Trump.

British Breakfast and Euro-selections

The events in Charlottesville and POUTS’s piss-poor reaction to them have already been extensively covered, and it won’t surprise you to learn that European reactions to what POUTS said range between horrified and disgusted. I don’t propose to regale you with much of that since it’s already getting pretty monotonous and you’ve read it all before.

We will in fact begin in Norway, as I promised last week. Their general election is on Sept 10-11: “election day” is the 11th, but there’s early voting on the Sunday in a lot of places.

British Breakfast and Euro-comment

European covfefe of POUTS this week has been dominated by the North Korea situation. Articles generally fall into one of two categories: first, assessments which say that events demonstrate that orange shitgibbons aren’t well-suited to the job of being President and second, those which wonder what is going to happen given that an orange shitgibbon actually is President. As regime change in DC is unlikely to occur overnight simply because a political journalist from Denmark thinks that the wrong bloke is in the White House/at a golf club, it has to be said that the second type is rather more enlightening.

British Breakfast and punditry

 

There has been an awful lot of comment about POUTS this week, mostly to the effect that he is bonkers. I realize that this may not come as much of a surprise, and it’s a theme which has always been part of the scenery in articles about him, but we seem to have reached something of a tipping point in the tone of coverage of him. There is less and less discussion of what he says, his various utterances being used more as jumping-off points for analysis of his character, for want of a  better word.