Trump: “I thought it would be easier”

President Donald Trump seems to be on a bit of a learning curve. Any new president is. Especially any new president with no previous experience as an elected representative, taking on one of the most powerful and most responsible and most complex and difficult jobs in the world.

Especially when he appears to have not expected to win until late in the campaign, and seems to have been terribly unprepared for what he was taking on.

That’s a couple of examples of Donald learning things that should be obvious to most people.

More in The education of Donald Trump

The 70-year-old leader of the free world sat behind his desk in the Oval Office last Friday afternoon, doing what he’s done for years: selling himself. His 100th day in office was approaching, and Trump was eager to reshape the hardening narrative of a White House veering off course.

So he took it upon himself to explain that his presidency was actually on track, inviting a pair of POLITICO reporters into the Oval Office for an impromptu meeting.

It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.

But interviews with nearly two dozen aides, allies, and others close to the president paint a different picture – one of a White House on a collision course between Trump’s fixed habits and his growing realization that this job is harder than he imagined when he won the election on Nov. 8.

So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power.

As president, Trump has repeatedly reminded his audiences, both public and private, about his longshot electoral victory. That unexpected win gave him and his closest advisers the false sense that governing would be as easy to master as running a successful campaign turned out to be. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think he’s much more aware how complicated the world is,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who serves as an informal administration adviser.

No single day was more telling about the ambiguity of Trumpism than April 12. It was that day that Trump not-so-quietly reversed himself on at least four of his campaign promises. He canceled a federal hiring freeze imposed in his first week. He flipped on labeling China a currency manipulator. He endorsed the Export-Import bank that he had called to eliminate. He declared NATO relevant, after trashing it repeatedly on the campaign trail.

“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said. “It is no longer obsolete.”

Trump’s critics and supporters alike are equally flummoxed about what this president stands for.

Apart from trying to win ratings and praise Trump probably doesn’t know what he stands for either.

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”

Not just Trump caught out by what work is involved.

As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges—and the limits—of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante. “To talk him out of doing crazy things.”

Interviews with White House officials, friends of Trump, veterans of his campaign and lawmakers paint a picture of a White House that has been slow to adapt to the demands of the most powerful office on earth.

Advisers have tried to curtail Trump’s idle hours, hoping to prevent him from watching cable news or calling old friends and then tweeting about it. That only works during the workday, though—Trump’s evenings and weekends have remained largely his own.

“It’s not like the White House doesn’t have a plan to fill his time productively but at the end of the day he’s in charge of his schedule,” said one person close to the White House. “He does not like being managed.”

He doesn’t seem to like working particularly hard either.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has developed a ritual of sorts: Just before going onstage for his televised briefings, he usually walks down the hall to the Oval Office to ask Trump what he wants to hear on TV that day. Cable news only occasionally carried press briefings from Obama’s secretaries in the later years of his presidency, but Spicer’s almost-daily outings have become a regular, wall-to-wall fixture.

His sessions with Trump were described by people familiar with them as part pep talk and part talking-point seminar. In the early days, Trump criticized Spicer fiercely, prompting him to upgrade his delivery at the podium as well as his wardrobe of suits. Now, people close to the president say, Trump brags about Spicer’s ratings.

More interested in perceptions of popularity rather than credibility.

If the goal of most administrations has been to set the media agenda for the day, it’s often the reverse in Trump’s White House, where what the president hears on the cable morning gabfests on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN can redirect his attention, schedule and agenda. The three TVs in the chief-of-staff’s office sometimes dictate the 8 a.m. meeting – and are always turned on to cable news, West Wing officials say.

Since taking office, Trump has 16 times tagged Fox and Friends, the network’s morning show, in his tweets, and countless other times weighed in on whatever they were talking about on air. After Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings went on Morning Joe and asked the president to call him, Trump did. After Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher defended Trump in an early Saturday morning Fox News hit, Trump called him moments later, inviting him to an Oval Office meeting. And after news segments, Trump will sometimes call his own advisers to discuss what he saw.

The reality presidency.

“Trump is a guy of action. He likes to move,” said Chris Ruddy, a close friend. “He doesn’t necessarily worry about all the collateral damage or the consequences.”

Who doesn’t care about damage or consequences.

Trump may be learning and adjusting. But he is still Trump. On Saturday, he’ll celebrate his 100th day in office by boycotting the traditional White House Correspondents’ Dinner in favor of a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The rallies, which remind him of the campaign trail, often improve his mood, several people close to him say. “I will be holding a BIG rally in Pennsylvania,” he tweeted by way of announcement. “Look forward to it!”

Trump seems to be doing as many interviews as he can fit in to his not very busy schedule outside publicity seeking.

He has also just done one with Reuters: Exclusive: ‘If there’s a shutdown, there’s a shutdown,’ Trump says

President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of a potential government shutdown on Thursday, just two days shy of a deadline for Congress to reach a spending deal to avert temporary layoffs of federal workers.

“We’ll see what happens. If there’s a shutdown, there’s a shutdown,” Trump told Reuters in an interview, adding that Democrats would be to blame if the federal government was left unfunded.

Don’t worry, just blame someone else.

Exclusive: Trump complains Saudis not paying fair share for U.S. defense

“Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money in defending Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“Nobody’s going to mess with Saudi Arabia because we’re watching them,” Trump told a campaign rally in Wisconsin a year ago. “They’re not paying us a fair price. We’re losing our shirt.”

Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible, but seeks diplomacy

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.

“We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult,” he said.

Something else he is finding difficult.

Reuters: Trump says he thought being president would be easier than his old life

President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Trump seems to think he is there for the adoring accolades, to be praised and revered. And he will keep watching TV until he sees it happen, it seems.

It’s hard to see how he will last out four years.

It may not matter, the world may not get to last that long.

Trump withdraws threat to withdraw from NAFTA

Yesterday it was being reported that a White House official had indicated that Donald Trump was likely to sign an order beginning the process for the US to withdraw from the NAFTA trade agreement.

That appears to have been a bluff, or Trump has reconsidered.

Trump has more or less confirmed that, but now says he has held off doing that pending negotiations with Canada and Mexico, but Trump has left a threat to withdraw hovering over talks.

Bloomberg: Trump Says Nafta Pullout Still Possible If Renegotiation Fails

President Donald Trump said Thursday he’s still ready to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if he can’t renegotiate better terms for the U.S. but that he decided to hold off on a decision after appeals from the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

“I was going to terminate NAFTA as of two or three days from now,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. But he said he reconsidered after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau both phoned him Wednesday asking him to renegotiate the deal instead. Those talks will start as soon as today, he said.

Trump also said a quick U.S. withdrawal “would be a pretty big shock to the system.”

But Trump… added that “If I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States–meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA.”

So the threat is still there. That seems to be how Trump likes to ‘negotiate’. And how he deals with ‘promises’.

Back in December:  Trump’s stance on NAFTA was a ‘campaign promise designed to be broken’

President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, would have a detrimental impact on the United States’ automobile industry and its jobs, VLF Automotive CEO Bob Lutz told CNBC on Friday.

Once Trump looks at the impact of the goals he voiced on the campaign trail, he will find a way out of pushing the auto industry into disarray, Lutz said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”

“I have every confidence that this is a campaign promise that is designed to be broken,” Lutz said.

“Trump is a reasonable, good, analytical businessman. Once he takes an earnest look at pluses and minuses of dealing with NAFTA and sees what the impact on American jobs [is],” he’ll find a way to roll back any promise of dismantling the agreement, Lutz contended.

The problem with Trump’s argument that producing car parts abroad constitutes unfair trade practices is that there are international systems in place that are mutually beneficial, said Lutz, who was formerly the vice chairman of General Motors.

So those who voted for Trump based on his promises may have to get used to his wheeling and dealing and flip flopping.

The North American Free Trade Agreement came into force on 1994.

Most economic analyses indicate that NAFTA has been a small net positive for the United States, large net positive for Mexico and had an insignificant impact on Canada.

Chad P. Bown (senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics): “a renegotiated NAFTA that would reestablish trade barriers is unlikely to help workers who lost their jobs — regardless of the cause — take advantage of new employment opportunities.”

Harvard economist Marc Melitz: “recent research estimates that the repeal of NAFTA would not increase car production in the United States.” Melitz notes that this would cost manufacturing jobs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Free_Trade_Agreement

ISIS ‘caliphate’ crumbling?

The Guardian reports that as military pressure continues against ISIS in Syria foreign fighters are trying to get out of the caliphate.

Isis faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic Stateand trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Sources within Isis have confirmed that the group’s ranks in its last redoubt in Syria have rapidly shrunk as a ground offensive has edged towards Raqqa and Tabqa in the country’s north-east, where foreign fighters had been extensively deployed over the past four years.

Officials in Turkey and Europe say an increasing number of Isis operatives who have joined the group since 2013 have contacted their embassies looking to return. Other, more ideologically committed members are thought to be intent on using the exodus to infiltrate Turkey and then travel onwards to Europe to seek vengeance for the crumbling caliphate, raising renewed fears of strikes on the continent.

Among them, western intelligence agencies believe, are prominent members of the group’s external operations arm, who joined Isis from numerous European countries including Britain, France and Belgium, as well as Australia. At least 250 ideologically driven foreigners are thought to have been smuggled to Europe from late 2014 until mid-2016, with nearly all travelling through Turkey after crossing a now rigidly enforced border.

So good news perhaps for Syria, but potentially bad news for Europe and elsewhere.

Masrour Barzani, chancellor of security for the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, said: “The nature of the fight against Isis will change into an intelligence war. Defeating Isis militarily deprives them of territory and prevents them attracting and recruiting foreign fighters. This in turn discourages foreign fighters from staying in the so-called Islamic State and they will eventually try to escape or surrender.

“However, the threat foreign fighters can still pose upon returning to their countries should not be underestimated.”

That’s likely to be difficult to deal with.

Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The US government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed. Around 850 British fighters have joined Isis or other jihadi groups such al-Nusra Front and in some cases the war against the regime of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. It is believed around half of these fighters have returned to the UK and around 200 have died.

Maher said a military defeat of Isis would cripple the group’s recruitment ability. “Islamic State has projected a narrative of momentum and success,” he said. “Their slogan has been ‘remaining and expanding’, and a lot of young people bought into that. As the caliphate begins to crumble, that same appeal simply isn’t there any more. It’s potency and relevance has been diminished.

“What you will now see is the most hardened and committed members of the group retreat to the desert as Islamic State prepares for its next phase, as an aggressive insurgency in Syria and Iraq. However, a significant proportion of its recruits from Europe and the west will lose confidence in the group and defect or surrender.”

So they are losing a lot of soldiers and their support looks like crumbling, but it doesn’t take many to cause problems if they spread out around the world.

US “massive tax cuts and tax reform”

As promised the Trump administration is proposing “massive tax cuts and tax reform”.

Fox News: Mnuchin vows ‘biggest tax cut’ in US history, confirms plan to slash business rate

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin confirmed Wednesday that the Trump administration aims to lower business tax rates to 15 percent, saying a forthcoming proposal will constitute the “biggest tax cut” for Americans in history.

“This is going to be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country,” Mnuchin said, as administration officials prepare to outline Wednesday afternoon what he described as “principles” of their tax plan.

Mnuchin, speaking at a Washington forum, would not reveal many specifics but confirmed that they want to lower the business rate to 15 percent.

“I will confirm that the business tax is going to be 15 percent,” he said. “[Trump] thinks that’s absolutely critical to drive growth.”

He indicated that the rate for small businesses and the corporate tax would both drop to 15 percent. The top small business rate is 39.6 percent; the current corporate tax is 35 percent.

Mnuchin also said the administration wants to “do the whole thing,” and not pursue tax reform piece by piece. Amid concerns that such sweeping tax cuts would significantly reduce revenue for the government, he suggested economic growth will help pay for the plan.

But there is no current plan to increase revenue to make up a massive shortfall.

The plan, though, is likely to run into tough questions from Democrats and some fiscal hawks about the impact on the federal deficit and national debt.

On Tuesday, the official scorekeeper for Congress dealt a blow to the argument that tax cuts pay for themselves.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation said a big cut in corporate taxes, even if temporary, would add to long-term budget deficits. This is a problem for Republicans because it means they would need Democratic support in the Senate to pass a tax overhaul that significantly cuts corporate taxes.

US tax rates are relatively high and that encourages tax avoidance, so they could attract business back into the US.

They hope that the tax cuts will pay for themselves with economic growth – and at the same time want to clamp down on trade. A huge gamble.

World watch

Wednesday GMT

WorldWatch

There’s a lot of things happening of interest around the world, from the Brexit split between the United Kingdom and the European Union to Donald Trump’s young presidency in the United States, from the civil war in Syria and the associated surrounding Middle East mess, to growing tensions around North Korea and China.

Trump on chemistry and his progress

Donald Trump has just had an interview with Associated Press. There are gems in it for both fans and critics.

Chemistry with leaders:

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s funny: One of the best chemistries I had was with (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel.

(Crosstalk) AP: Really?

TRUMP: Chancellor Merkel.

TRUMP: And I guess somebody shouted out, “Shake her hand, shake her hand,” you know. But I never heard it. But I had already shaken her hand four times. You know, because we were together for a long time.

AP: Did you expect you would have good chemistry with her?

TRUMP: No. Because, um, I’m at odds on, you know, the NATO payments and I’m at odds on immigration. We had unbelievable chemistry. And people have given me credit for having great chemistry with all of the leaders, including el-Sissi. …

TRUMP: So it was a great thing to see that happen.

On the first 100 days and chemistry with leaders:

AP: Do you feel like you have changed the office of the presidency, how the presidency can be used to effect change?

TRUMP: I think the 100 days is, you know, it’s an artificial barrier. It’s not very meaningful. I think I’ve established amazing relationships that will be used the four or eight years, whatever period of time I’m here. I think for that I would be getting very high marks because I’ve established great relationships with countries, as President el-Sissi has shown and others have shown.

Well, if you look at the president of China, people said they’ve never seen anything like what’s going on right now. I really liked him a lot. I think he liked me. We have a great chemistry together. …

On troops in Syria and chemistry:

AP: Should Americans who are serving in the military expect that you are going to increase troop numbers in the Middle East to fight ISIS?

TRUMP: No, not much.

AP: In terms of the strategy, though, that you have accepted, it sounds like, from the generals —

TRUMP: Well, they’ve also accepted my strategy.

AP: Does that involve more troops on the ground, it sounds like?

TRUMP: Not many.

AP: So a small increase?

TRUMP: It could be an increase, then an increase. But not many more. I want to do the job, but not many more. … This is an important story. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days and I think the first 100 days is an artificial barrier. And I’m scheduled … the foundations have been set to do some great things. With foreign countries. Look at, look at President Xi. I mean …

AP: What do you think it was about your chemistry?

TRUMP: We had good chemistry. Now I don’t know that I think that’s going to produce results but you’ve got a good chance.

AP: Uh-huh.

TRUMP: Look, he turned down many coal ships. These massive coal ships are coming where they get a lot of their income. They’re coming into China and they’re being turned away. That’s never happened before. The fuel, the oil, so many different things. You saw the editorial they had in their paper saying they cannot be allowed to have nuclear, you know, et cetera. People have said they’ve never seen this ever before in China. We have the same relationship with others. There’s a great foundation that’s built. Great foundation. And I think it’s going to produce tremendous results for our country.

Claims by Trump of great chemistry should be taken with a grain of sodium chloride.

On his biggest success so far.

AP: So in terms of the 100-day plan that you did put out during the campaign, do you feel, though, that people should hold you accountable to this in terms of judging success?

TRUMP: No, because much of the foundation’s been laid. Things came up. I’ll give you an example. I didn’t put Supreme Court judge on the 100 (day) plan, and I got a Supreme Court judge.

AP: I think it’s on there.

TRUMP: I don’t know. …

AP: “Begin the process of selecting.” You actually exceeded on this one. This says, “Begin the process of selecting a replacement.”

TRUMP: That’s the biggest thing I’ve done.

AP: Do you consider that your biggest success?

TRUMP: Well, I — first of all I think he’s a great man. I think he will be a great, great justice of the Supreme Court. I have always heard that the selection and the affirmation of a Supreme Court judge is the biggest thing a president can do. Don’t forget, he could be there for 40 years. … He’s a young man. I’ve always heard that that’s the biggest thing. Now, I would say that defense is the biggest thing. You know, to be honest, there are a number of things. But I’ve always heard that the highest calling is the nomination of a Supreme Court justice. I’ve done one in my first 70 days.

TRUMP: Our military is so proud. They were not proud at all. They had their heads down. Now they have their heads up. …

On the first 100 days and the size of government:

AP: Can I ask you, over your first 100 days — you’re not quite there yet — how do you feel like the office has changed you?

TRUMP: Well the one thing I would say — and I say this to people — I never realized how big it was. Everything’s so (unintelligible) like, you know the orders are so massive. I was talking to —

AP: You mean the responsibility of it, or do you mean —

TRUMP: Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area — you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away — and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet …. every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. (unintelligible) … This is involving death and life and so many things. … So it’s far more responsibility. (unintelligible) ….The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency. This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world. The second-largest company in the world is the Defense Department. The third-largest company in the world is Social Security. The fourth-largest — you know, you go down the list.

AP: Right.

TRUMP. It’s massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that’s involved in some of the decisions.

On loving people and big responsibilities.

AP: What’s that switch been like for you?

TRUMP: In fact, in business you’re actually better off without it.

AP: What’s making that switch been like for you?

TRUMP: You have to love people. And if you love people, such a big responsibility. (unintelligible) You can take any single thing, including even taxes. I mean we’re going to be doing major tax reform. Here’s part of your story, it’s going to be a big (unintelligible). Everybody’s saying, “Oh, he’s delaying.” I’m not delaying anything. I’ll tell you the other thing is (unintelligible). I used to get great press. I get the worst press. I get such dishonest reporting with the media. That’s another thing that really has — I’ve never had anything like it before. It happened during the primaries, and I said, you know, when I won, I said, “Well the one thing good is now I’ll get good press.” And it got worse. (unintelligible) So that was one thing that a little bit of a surprise to me. I thought the press would become better, and it actually, in my opinion, got more nasty.

He’s still not big on the media.

AP: Obviously, that’s going to come in a week where you’re going to be running up against the deadline for keeping the government open. If you get a bill on your desk that does not include funding for the wall, will you sign it?

TRUMP: I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college — but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall, they want to see security. Now, it just came out that they’re 73 percent down. … That’s a tremendous achievement. … Look at this, in 100 days, that down to the lowest in 17 years and it’s going lower. Now, people aren’t coming because they know they’re not going to get through, and there isn’t crime. You know the migration up to the border is horrible for women, you know that? (Unintelligible.) Now, much of that’s stopped because they can’t get through.

AP: It sounds like maybe you’re beginning to send a message that if you do get a spending bill that doesn’t have border funding in there, you would sign it.

TRUMP: Well, first of all, the wall will cost much less than the numbers I’m seeing. I’m seeing numbers, I mean, this wall is not going to be that expensive.

AP: What do you think the estimate on it would be?

TRUMP: Oh I’m seeing numbers — $24 billion, I think I’ll do it for $10 billion or less. That’s not a lot of money relative to what we’re talking about. If we stop 1 percent of the drugs from coming in — and we’ll stop all of it. But if we stop 1 percent of the drugs because we have the wall — they’re coming around in certain areas, but if you have a wall, they can’t do it because it’s a real wall. That’s a tremendously good investment, 1 percent. The drugs pouring through on the southern border are unbelievable. We’re becoming a drug culture, there’s so much. And most of it’s coming from the southern border. The wall will stop the drugs.

The wall will not stop the drugs. Nothing has stopped the drugs, especially warring against them. The wall will be no different.

AP: This morning you tweeted that after the possible terrorist attack in Paris, that it will have a big effect on the upcoming French election. What did you mean by that?

TRUMP: Well, I think it will have a big effect on who people are going to vote for in the election.

AP: Do you think it’s going to help Marine Le Pen?

TRUMP: I think so.

AP: Do you believe that she should be the president?

TRUMP: No, I have no comment on that, but I think that it’ll probably help her because she is the strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.

AP: Do you worry at all that by saying that, that a terrorist attack would have an impact on a democratic election, that it would actually embolden terrorists to try to —.

TRUMP: No. Look, everybody is making predictions who is going to win. I am no different than you, you could say the same thing. …

AP: I just wonder if you are encouraging, you are the president of the United States, so to say that you worry that it encourages terrorists …

TRUMP: No, I am no different than — no, I think it discourages terrorists, I think it discourages. I think what we’ve done on the border discourages it. I think that my stance on having people come in to this country that we have no idea who they are and in certain cases you will have radical Islamic terrorism. I’m not going to have it in this country. I’m not going to let what happened to France and other places happen here. And it’s already largely, you know — we have tens — we have hundreds of thousands of people that have been allowed into our country that should not be here. They shouldn’t be here. We have people allowed into our country with no documentation whatsoever. They have no documentation and they were allowed under the previous administrations, they were allowed into our country. It’s a big mistake.

AP: Just so that I am clear. You are not endorsing her for the office, but you are —

TRUMP: I am not endorsing her and I didn’t mention her name.

AP: Right, I just wanted to make sure I have that clear.

TRUMP: I believe whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism and whoever is the toughest at the borders will do well at the election. I am not saying that person is going to win, she is not even favored to win, you know. Right now, she is in second place.

Without saying it outright he clearly seems to favour Le Pen and her policies.

North Korean nuclear threat ‘is real’

After the Iraq debacle the world should be very sceptical of claims that crappy regimes have weapons that demand urgent military action.

But nuclear risks are so large, potentially threatening the well being of the whole plant, that any nuclear threat is a major concern. As are the increasing rhetoric and tensions over North Korea.

Nuclear weapons can be used as a threat. They can also be used as a deterrence to being attacked.

So far that has more or less worked for those countries that have acquired them, but there is always a very real concern that a mad or irresponsible leader will use nuclear weapons pre-emptively, or just out of spite, or under pressure, or to play to a domestic audience, or for any number of reasons.

A nuclear attack is most likely when, not if. The timing, and the degree of escalation and destruction, are probably all that is in doubt, along with who pushes the button.

Vox: North Korea’s growing nuclear threat, in one statistic

Here is the most frightening thing you’ll read all day: Growing numbers of US intelligence officials believe North Korea can produce a new nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks.

That’s one of the most jarring takeaways in an exhaustive New York Times story about North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear program — and the decades of US efforts that have tried, and failed, to slow it. The Trump administration plans to detail its own approach Wednesday when it brings the entire US Senate to the White House for a highly unusual briefing on the North Korean threat.

The threat is real. Here are a few more details, courtesy of the Times’s David Sanger and William Broad. North Korea is on pace to have 50 nuclear weapons by 2020. It already knows how to miniaturize those weapons so they can fit into missiles capable of hitting Japan, South Korea, and the tens of thousands of US troops stationed in those two countries. And a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the US — while not yet in Pyongyang’s arsenal — is now seen as a genuine possibility.

The reclusive country’s steady efforts to develop that type of missile, the Times reports, “have resulted in North Korean warheads that in a few years could reach Seattle.”

That’s not all. As Alex Ward wrote for Vox, South Korea’s capital of Seoul is well within range of the thousands of conventional weapons in North Korea’s enormous arsenal. Pyongyang could devastate the city of 25 million people without needing to use a nuclear weapon.

The threat to South Korea from conventional attack has been well known for decades.

All of that means President Trump faces the same hard question that bedeviled George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him: whether to risk war to prevent one of the world’s most unstable governments from building more of the world’s most dangerous weapons — including some capable of one day hitting the US.

This is, without doubt, a genuinely scary moment, with Washington and Pyongyang both making increasingly explicit threats against each other.

The Trump administration has specifically talked about a preemptive strike against North Korea and has a large US Navy carrier strike group steaming toward the region (yes, the same one that Trump had falsely said was heading there last week). And a US submarine docked in South Korea Tuesday as part of an explicit show of force.

North Korea has responded with threats to sink a US aircraft carrier and destroy American military bases in Japan (it’s far from clear the country could pull off either one). On Tuesday, it test-fired huge numbers of its artillery pieces (which are basically large guns capable of hitting distant targets), including many of the ones capable of striking South Korea. Many observers expect North Korea to conduct a nuclear test — its sixth in the past 11 years — as soon as the end of this week.

Still, none of this means that war is inevitable — or likely.

I’m not so sure about the likely bit. North Korea is being put under increasing pressure, and Donald Trump hasn’t exactly earned the world’s trust yet by any means.

Philly.com: Two bad options on North Korea: Acceptance or war

The Trump administration’s approach to the deadly serious problem of North Korea is the worst of all possible formulations. It is Teddy Roosevelt, turned upside down – “Speak loudly, and pretend to carry a big stick.”

What the administration wants is absolutely the ideal objective, to prevent North Korea from acquiring the capability to launch nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles at the United States.
But the means being discussed, such as putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism (“sticks and stones may break my bones…”), banning the North Korean airline from flying places it will never fly anyway, and banning the import of North Korean seafood (seriously?), are almost comically insufficient to the problem. Then there’s the “armada,” 3,500 miles away, but, maybe, on the way. These things, and other non-military options which might be considered, all pale by comparison to both the carrots and sticks that have already been used by prior presidents.

The hope that President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can persuade China to exercise maximum leverage against North Korea — perhaps shutting off energy supplies, or stopping the regime  from reaching nuclear ICBM capability through sanctions-backed diplomacy, while also preventing it from “going out with a bang” if it thought it would be stopped — is almost certainly a mirage. Likewise, even the best offensive cyber-wafare operations can do little more than slow down the march toward nuclear capability against us.

Even limited preemptive military action won’t work. How could merely wounding and cornering a fierce animal not lead to a rageful last gasp of dreadful retaliation?

There is a good reason none of these are viable options. It’s because, from the North Korean point of view, only achieving that most fearsome military capability can provide reasonable assurance of this regime’s long-term existence.

So here is the truly horrible truth about North Korea. There are only two choices.

The first is that we acknowledge and accept, as we have done with Russian and Chinese ICBM capabilities for decades, and then try to deter and contain, and to defend against, a North Korea able to strike us with nuclear weapons.

…the alternative, the only alternative, is war. War waged to victory, not stalemate. War waged and won before the North Koreans achieve their weapons development goal. War waged with both sufficient force and tactical surprise, so as to not leave the opponent wounded, cornered, and still able to lash out.

This means the WWII notion of war, one aimed at toppling the enemy regime and destroying its capacity for harm, not limited “surgical strikes” aimed to send messages or merely degrade the other side. In the case of North Korea, limited war would almost certainly lead to total war, which would likely include the North’s use of nuclear weapons. So if any use of force will very probably lead to total war, it needs to be total war from the outset, on the most advantageous terms from our perspective.

Frightful though it surely is, there is a clock ticking on this decision, and sound judgments cannot be made on the basis of false premises. Our choices are both bad and difficult. Our choices are acceptance or war.

It’s hard to see any alternatives to those two options.

 

More claims of Russian election interference

Some here have said that allegations of Russian hacking and interference in the US presidential election isn’t a big deal, they shouldn’t be investigated, and everyone should just “move on”.

The election result is a done deal and there’s not changing that, but efforts to combat international interference in elections is a growing problem that needs attention and demands investigation.

The Russian hacker claims have now moved to the French presidential election.

BBC: Russian hackers ‘target’ presidential candidate Macron

Russian hackers are targeting the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, say security experts.

Phishing emails, malware and fake net domains were all being used as attack techniques, said Feike Hacquebord, from security company Trend Micro.

The attackers are believed to be part of the same group that targeted the US election.

Russia has denied that it is behind attacks aimed at Mr Macron.

In a report, Mr Hacquebord said the group behind the “aggressive” attacks was a collective of Russian hackers known widely as Fancy Bear, APT28 and Pawn Storm.

He said the group was using an extensive arsenal of high-tech con tricks to grab the login names, passwords and other credentials of staff aiding Mr Macron’s bid to be the next French president.

In particular, said Mr Hacquebord, the hacker group had registered several net domains similar to those already registered by the French politician’s staff.

The fake domains were then used in phishing emails sent to key workers in an attempt to get them to visit the websites so login details could be scooped up.

Mr Hacquebord said telltale techniques of the group lent weight to the idea that the people involved in the French attacks were behind ones seen last year in the US.

A spokesman for the French national cyber-security agency, ANSSI, confirmed that it too had seen several attacks on Mr Macron’s staff and back-office systems.

However, a spokesman for the agency said it was difficult to be sure that the Pawn Storm group was behind the attacks.

But:

The Pawn Storm group is also believed to have been involved in other attacks on political organisations, including the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the Turkish government and Montenegro’s parliament, as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency and Arabic television channel al-Jazeera.

This sort of political cyber attacking and campaign disruption is difficult to combat, but it would be ridiculous to just try to ignore it as if it isn’t a problem.

 

Ivanka Trump defends father at women’s summit

Ivanka Trump was given a critical reception at a women’s summit she attended in Berlin when she tried to defend her father’s attitude and action towards women.

BBC: Ivanka Trump forced to defend father at G20 women’s summit

Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka was met with groans as she defended her father’s attitude towards women at the G20 women’s summit in Berlin.

The First Daughter was taking part in a panel discussion about female entrepreneurs alongside German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

An audible groan went up as she told the room her father was a “tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive”.

Mr Trump has been criticised over his attitude to women, especially after a tape of him making obscene remarks was released during the presidential campaign.

But Ms Trump said that although she had “heard the criticism from the media and that has been perpetuated”, she did not recognise her father in the description and nor would the “thousands” of women he had employed over the years.

“He encouraged me and enabled me to thrive. I grew up in a house where there were no barriers to what I could accomplish,” she added.

How he has treated his daughter and how he treats women in general seem to be quite different.

Ignoring the boos, hisses and disapproval of a room full of female delegates, Donald Trump’s special adviser persisted in her defence of a father who, she said, had enabled and encouraged her.

Ostensibly today’s visit – at the direct invitation of Angela Merkel – was about empowering women. But it’s been widely interpreted here as an attempt to forge another line of communication to the US president, and may mark a profound shift in the way in which Berlin – and Europe – does business with Washington.

Thus far the charm offensive seems to be working. Despite their significantly different politics, Mr Trump has said that he shares an unbelievable chemistry with the German chancellor.

Claims like that from Trump need to be taken with a grain of sodium chloride. He appeared to treat Merkel with disdain when she visited Washington.

Fox News gave a similar account: Ivanka Trump greeted with groans from Germany audience while defending her dad

First daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump faced a rocky reception Tuesday while defending her father’s advocacy for women at an event in Germany.

During her first official trip abroad in her White House role, she drew groans from the audience when she touted her father’s record after making a plug for paid leave policies.

“I am very proud of my father’s advocacy — long before he came to the presidency but during the campaign and into the primaries, he has been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive,” she said in Berlin.

Disapproving murmurs and groans could be heard, and the moderator paused to note the reaction. The moderator said President Trump’s public attitudes toward women “in former times might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women,” and asked Ivanka to comment.

In response, the first daughter said she’s heard such criticism from the media, and it’s “being perpetuated,” but said she knows her father’s attitudes from “personal experience.”

“And I think the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women,” she said.

There’s a lot of controversy over what potential Trump sees in some women – potential targets for his unwanted attention.

Also at Fox in Trump’s learning curve collides with campaign hype is this typically bizarre quote:

Trump went on to say that another key difference he observed from his time in the business world and in government is the need for “heart.” In business, Trump concluded, it’s bad to care about people. In government, he said, it is important to “love people.”

Is this the sort of business in which he means bad to care about people?

cyjaghruoaacdk2

And the potential of women in Government? White males dominate Trump’s top cabinet posts:

TrumpsWhiteHouse

Including Trump, that’s 22 men and 4 women. Not as lot of potential for females there.

And his general attitude to women is described at The Telegraph in Donald Trump sexism tracker: Every offensive comment in one place

These are just some of the names that Donald Trump has called women over the years.

The newly elected President of the United States has been widely called out for his objectification of women – he has a tendency to criticise them for their looks – and sexist remarks.

So it’s not surprising that Ivanka Trump would get a critical reception at a women’s summit when trying to defend her father.

World watch

WorldWatch

Tuesday GMT

There’s a lot of things happening of interest around the world, from the Brexit split between the United Kingdom and the European Union to Donald Trump’s young presidency in the United States, from the civil war in Syria and the associated surrounding Middle East mess, to growing tensions around North Korea and China.