Trump’s ‘no collusion’ claims unravelling

Donald Trump and his supporters have adamantly claimed there was ‘no collision’ between his campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 US election, but that is unravelling. One of Trump’s got to media spokespeople has shifted the goal posts substantially, now saying there was no collusion just by Trump himself.

Even if Trump was not directly involved with Russian collusion, if his campaign manager, fixit lawyer, son, daughter or son-in-law were colluding during his campaign it would not be credible to claim he knew nothing about it.

For some reason CNN was used to walk back the ‘no collusion’ claim

CNN – Rudy Giuliani just totally contradicted 18 months of ‘no collusion’ talk from Donald Trump

If you know anything about the White House’s reaction to the ongoing special counsel probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election, it’s these two words: “No collusion.”

Trump, as well as his top aides — everyone from senior counselor Kellyanne Conway to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders — has insisted since the start of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation in spring 2017 that no one in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to help his candidacy and hurt that of Hillary Clinton. In a single answer to a question about the Mueller probe last January, for example, Trump unleashed an epic seven(!) “no collusion” assertions. Here’s just a piece of that (bolding mine):
“Well, again John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that — but bottom line, they all say there’s no collusion. And there is no collusion.”
Trump’s Twitter feed, too, is choked with “no collusion” talk. According to the indispensable Trump Twitter Archive, Trump has tweeted the words “no collusion” 60 separate times, with the first coming on May 12, 2017 and the most recent happening on January 6.

All of which brings me to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night. And these lines from Giuliani, in particular:

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or people in the campaign. I said the President of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.

But it looks like straight out bullshitting about what he ‘never said’. On Fox News in July 2018:

Fox News’ Guy Benson: “Regardless of whether collusion would be a crime, is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?”

Giuliani: “Correct.”

This repositioning of ‘no collusion’ claims looks to be forced by what is now known.

When Giuliani started claiming that there was “no collusion” between the campaign and the Russians, we didn’t know that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had not only met with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russia with ties to the country’s intelligence service, but had shared polling data on the 2016 race. Or that Kilimnik is a focus of Mueller’s probe.

And it appears that Mueller has already written a draft report on his inquiry into collusion. It looks like Giuliani is trying to distance Trump himself from what may be revealed.

If, say, Mueller finds collusion but not by Trump, the President and Giuliani will now say: We told you! No collusion between Trump and the Russians. This is all one big witch hunt! Mueller didn’t find anything.

If Trump could maintain some level of credibility with his base, it would make it that much harder for GOP lawmakers — especially in the Senate — to turn on him in impeachment proceedings.

None of that, however, should excuse what Giuliani was up to on Wednesday night. He was purposely trying to rewrite the history of his defense of the President of the United States in an ongoing investigation into how Russia sought to influence a national election on US soil.

And it is unlikely Giuliani is doing this without Trump being in on the ‘adjusted claim’.

One of those causing problems for Trump’s claims of co collusion is his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, now convicted of lying to Congress.

Buzzfeed:  President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

Cohen admitting being involved with collusion with Russia blows the ‘no campaign collusion’ denials out of the water.

The standard Trump response is to attack and try to discredit anyone threatening him. And that’s what is happening here.

If you believe Giuliani…

Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.


Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.

HOW DID THE KURDS EMERGE AS A FORCE?

The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.

WHY DOES TURKEY VIEW THEM AS A THREAT?

The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.

FOR KURDS, IS ASSAD A FRIEND OR FOE?

Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.

WHAT WOULD AN ASSAD-KURD DEAL MEAN FOR THE WAR?

The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.

 

Deal making like Picasso

One of Donald Trump’s many attributes (as claimed by Trump) is that he is a great deal maker.

“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals.” — Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”.

Trump’s current deal making skills look a bit Picasso.

The New York Times details the apparent lack of understanding of trump over the Mexican wall funding crisis – What Trump Could Learn From His Shutdown.

In this case, the president’s inability to reach some sort of deal rests heavily on several basic failures of understanding by him and his team. These include:

1. A failure to grasp how divided government works. The president somehow came to believe that he’d have more leverage once the Democrats took control of the House.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has been spoiled by two years of Congress being led by weak-kneed members of his party who, even when troubled by his excesses, largely let him run amok, lest he call down upon them the wrath of the Republican base.

2. A failure to understand the costs of playing only to the base. Time and again, Mr. Trump has chosen partisanship over leadership, doing nothing to expand his appeal. This puts him at a disadvantage in wooing the public to his side of the wall debate.

His job approval has slipped over his handling of the wall funding and partial Government shut down. Even both Rasmussen and Economist/YouGov has him falling to -9% – see RealClear Politics.

3. A failure to understand Nancy Pelosi. Apparently, Mr. Trump never got around to reading “The Art of War,” or at least not Sun Tzu’s admonition to “know your enemy.” If he had, the president would have tried to develop at least a basic working relationship with Ms. Pelosi. The White House clearly assumed that, at some point — maybe after she secured the speaker’s gavel — Ms. Pelosi would bend to Mr. Trump’s will. But the speaker is not impressed with bluster. She is seldom cowed by political pressure from her own team, much less the opposing one. She plays the long game, and her will is as formidable as Mr. Trump’s, possibly more so. One key difference: Ms. Pelosi knows how the legislative process works.

4. A failure to understand shutdown politics. If you don’t want to be blamed for one, don’t say you’re going to own it. Mr. Trump sacrificed that option when he boasted how “proud” he’d be to grind the government to a halt.

5. A failure to understand how the government works. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone on his team had a clue how disruptive even a partial shutdown could be — and how they’d need to scurry to prevent millions of people from losing food stamps, housing or tax refunds.

Ignorance of the real life effects of suddenly having your pay stopped. It’s probably not something trump has ever come close to experiencing.

6. A failure to understand how members of Congress operate. Standing by the president when he’s tweeting out empty threats and insults is one thing. But when a shutdown starts causing pain and outrage back home, Republican lawmakers, especially those in vulnerable districts or states, start asking themselves which they value more — their president or their political hides. Even casual students of Congress know that this is not a tough call.

It may also grind down his support.

Business deals are quite different. You win some, you lose some (like gamblers, business deal makers only brag about their wins, not their losses).

But political deals are far more complex. When a shutdown becomes a part of the pressure it impacts on many people who need to feed their families and retain their homes, and on politicians who want to retain their support.

A president has far more power than a businessman – but most of that power is reliant on many other people. Doing political deals requires an understanding of how to get the support needed to use their power.  Bullshit and bullying may work in some situations, like when you have a gutless Congress. But when you are up against a bloody-minded Congress understanding how politics works is important.

It may be better to liken Trump’s current deal making to a different sort of painting.

Image result for child painting anger

But ignorant anger is not a strong hand in the art of the political deal.

Is the US-Mexican border problem a crisis?

Rhetoric and exaggeration are common in politics. There is currently a war of words in the United States over their immigration problem on the Mexican border. There is certainly a major problem there.

Is it a crisis? Possibly, depending on how you define ‘crisis’ – but if so, it may have been an ongoing crisis over decades. And Trump has been talking up crisis to justify his border wall since the presidential election in 2016.

It may be a long-term crisis, but the real crisis may be in a dysfunctional Government and political system.

New York Times: In Texas Visit, Trump Presses His Argument That There’s a Border ‘Crisis’

President Trump arrived in this city on the Mexican border on Thursday to dramatize his desire for a border wall, a hardened position that has caused the partial shutdown of the federal government.

He surrounded himself with border agents, victims of horrible crimes, a display of methamphetamine and heroin, an AK-47 and an AR-15 rifle, and a trash bag stuffed with $362,062 in cash that had been confiscated by law enforcement officials.

In his view, it all added up to a single word, “crisis,” with a lone solution, building a wall.

He also criticized Democrats who have accused him of trying to manufacture a crisis to justify his $5.7 billion border barrier demand. “What’s manufactured is the word manufactured,” the president said.

Democrats have insisted that the administration faces a large-scale humanitarian problem that is a direct result of Mr. Trump’s policy, but argue that a border wall is not the right solution and that Mr. Trump has failed to make the case that there is a true security crisis.

Frida Ghitis (CNN): Trump is creating a ‘crisis’ to distract from the real crisis of a flailing president

Something has changed. President Donald Trump’s headline-hungry governing style has never lacked for drama, but there’s a new sense of aimlessness lately in Trump’s frenetic search for a crisis, his efforts to control the headlines, distract from other events, and keep his base satisfied that he is the muscular fighter who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

In reality, the Trump administration is a vortex of incoherence.

In the final weeks of 2018, Trump suddenly revived his promise to build a wall with all the concentrated determination of a man fleeing a posse.

The promise was never quite dead (the second stanza of the “Build the Wall” campaign chant, the part about Mexico paying, has faded, drowned by the debunking of nonsensical claims) but two years into the Trump administration, the urgency of building a wall exploded onto the scene only after tangible threats to Trump looked imminent.

Trump’s claim that there’s an immigration crisis at the border is refuted by experts. His demonization of immigrants treads a well-worn path of demagogues seeking to invent enemies to build support. And even people who live along the border are skeptical of his claim that a wall is a solution. And yet he has brought part of the government to a standstill over it.

Investor’s Business Daily: Yes, There Is A Crisis At The Border — The Numbers Show It

Illegal Immigration: Democrats and the mainstream press accuse President Donald Trump of manufacturing a crisis at the border. The numbers tell another story.

As soon as the words “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border” left Trump’s lips in his Oval Office address this week, Democrats and media “fact-checkers” were trying to dispel it as a deliberate lie.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump “must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”

Border Crossings Climbing

NPR’s “fact check” — like countless others — dismissed Trump’s claim as false because “illegal border crossings in the most recent fiscal year (ending in September 2018) were actually lower than in either 2016 or 2014.”

What they aren’t telling you is border patrol agents apprehended more than 100,000 people trying to enter the country illegally in just October and November of last year. Or that that number is way up from the same two months the year before.

Nor do they mention that last year, the border patrol apprehended more than half a million people trying to get into the country illegally. And that number, too, is up from the year before.

That’s huge numbers.

The Department of Homeland Security claims that about 20% of illegal border crossers make it into the country. Other studies, however, say border agents fail to apprehend as much as 50% of illegal crossers.

Even at the lower percentage, that means that 104,000 illegals made it into the country in 2018 alone.

Is that not a crisis at the border?

It is a big problem to deal with, but is it “a time of intense difficulty or danger”? Or “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made”? Important decisions have to be made all the time by Governments. But Trump made his decision about building a wall years ago.

Pelosi and company also don’t bother to mention the fact that there are already between 12 million and 22 million illegals — depending on which study you use — in the country today.

An analysis by the nonpartisan ProCon.org found that in 2010 almost 4% of the U.S. population was in the country illegally. The average for 13 other countries it analyzed was just 1.3%.

Large scale illegal immigration has been happening for a long time.

Isn’t having millions in the country illegally, with thousands joining them every day, not a crisis at the border?

Past Presidents Promised To Fix This

Here’s another problem with claims that we don’t have a crisis at the border.

Past presidents all treated it like one.

In 1982, for example, President Ronald Reagan said that “The ongoing migration of persons to the United States in violation of our laws is a serious national problem detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

President Bill Clinton said in his 1995 State of the Union address that “All Americans … are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country.” That’s why, he said, “our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders.”

President George Bush, in a prime-time Oval Office speech in 2006, declared that securing the U.S. border is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security.”

President Barack Obama in 2005 declared that “we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked.” And in 2014 even he admitted there was a crisis on the border — one that he did virtually nothing to fix. (Apprehensions at the border last year were almost the same as in 2014.)

None of those past presidents are quoted as saying it was a ‘crisis’, but it was obviously a large problem of concern. One of the concerns about it was the impact on the US economy a major purge of illegal immigrants would have – illegals had become an essential part of the economy.

Perhaps the US has had an ongoing immigration crisis since the 1980s. One problem is that mass deportation would likely create a labour shortage crisis, and could create an economic crisis. And it would almost certainly create crises elsewhere, wherever the large number of deportees went to.

And perhaps here is a more recent crisis – a crisis in US government. Now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress, and they are refusing to fund Trump’s wall, there could be a developing political crisis. A dysfunctional democracy may have reached crisis point.

Building a wall on the Mexican border is nor going to fix their massive immigration problems, but the funding issue has created a clash of crises – immigration and a dysfunctional Government.

It’s hard to see any quick or easy solutions to either, with politicians from the President down seemingly hell bent on putting their own political interests a priority over trying to find solutions to their entrenched immigration problem.

New York Times:  What Trump Could Learn From His Shutdown

You know the system has broken down when the clearest way out of a government shutdown may be for the president to declare a fake national emergency.

This was the direction President Trump appeared to be leaning on Thursday, as he flew to McAllen, Tex., to promote his border wall — a P.R. stunt that he didn’t want to perform and that he said in advance was unlikely to bear fruit. “It’s not going to change a damn thing,” he was reported to have said, “but I’m still doing it.”

Bottom line: Mr. Trump loves to boast that he leads with his “gut.” He really can’t be bothered with all the humdrum details of governing, remaining proudly ignorant of how anything works in Washington — the presidency, the Congress, the Constitution. That’s left him in a standoff for which he was wholly unprepared.

For the sake of the millions being hurt, let’s hope he manages to blunder himself back out of this mess soon.

It’s alarming to see that “a stupid or careless mistake” is suggested as the sole way out of a clash of crises.

 

Trump’s immigration speech

Donald Trump gave a speech today on immigration and funding of his border wall today, but didn’t declare a state of emergency as had been suggested as a possibility.

Reuters: Trump urges border wall, avoids declaring emergency

President Trump urged Congress to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the border with Mexico, but stopped short of declaring a national emergency that could have led to unilaterally funding the project.

In his first formal address to the nation from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump painted a picture of a national threat and humanitarian crisis occurring along the US-Mexico border, saying his signature border wall would provide a solution.

Here’s a partial rundown of the President’s statements and the context:

Trump: “The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”
The President has made this false claim before.

Trump: “Every day, Customs and Border Patrol agents encounter thousands of illegal immigrants trying to enter our country.
This is overstated. Available Customs and Border Protection data shows a total of 396,579 people were apprehended by the US Border Patrol for fiscal year 2018 at the southwest border, which would mean an average of 1,087 each day — hardly the “thousands” that Trump purports.

Trump: “All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.”
It’s very difficult to know exactly how much or little undocumented immigrants cost the United States. Many experts contest the notion that undocumented immigrants are a strain on the economy. A 2017 analysis noted that undocumented immigrants “make considerable tax contributions,” for example.
Similarly, a 2018 study by the libertarian Cato Institute, which reviewed criminal conviction data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, found that immigrants — legal or illegal — are less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of crimes.

Trump: “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.”
Democrats have long strenuously opposed Trump’s campaign promise that he would build a concrete wall on the US-Mexico border. But they did not propose a steel barrier as an alternative.

Fox News:  Trump laments ‘crisis’ at border, makes plea for wall as Dems slam ‘misinformation’

Nobody knows more than Trump on just about everything

A collation from the king of modesty talking about himself, on how he knows more than just about anybody on a wide on just about anything.

Thiessen: The 10 worst things Trump did in 2018

Following Marc Thiessen’s Trump successes in 2018 he has also done The 10 worst things Trump did in 2018.

… he also did a lot of bad things that ranged from cringeworthy to catastrophic. Here are the 10 worst:

10. His comment about “sh–hole” countries blew up negotiations for a deal that would have given Trump his border wall.
…his abhorrent comment undermined Democrats who were serious about cutting a deal and gave those who were not a pretext to walk away.

9. His offensive tweets continued to undermine his presidency.
Calling former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman “a dog” and Stormy Daniels “Horseface” — among countless offensive tweets — is not just unpresidential, it drives away potential supporters who like his policies but then are reminded how much they don’t like Trump.

8. His misuse of power turned critics into martyrs.

7. He drove away suburban voters and caused the GOP to lose control of the House.
That’s because the president has sought to energize his base in ways that drive those voters away.

6. His graceless handling of Sen. John McCain’s funeral was a new low.

5. His handling of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder harmed America’s moral standing.

4. His news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was an embarrassment.

3. His policy to separate migrant children from their families at the southern border was an avoidable tragedy.

2. His planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a gift to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The news came just as U.S. officials were holding talks with the Taliban whose No. 1 demand is . . . the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Hardly the “art of the deal.”

1. His pullout of all U.S. troops in Syria will take America’s boot off of the terrorists’ necks.
Trump’s claim that “we have defeated ISIS in Syria” is as bad as Obama’s dismissing them as the “J.V.” squad.

 

 

 

Recession imminent? Economic indicators to watch this year

The world is overdue a recession, or worse. US sharemarkets ended the year dropping a lot from earlier record highs and then recovering a bit, but still well off the highs. So what is likely to happen this year?

Reuters: Breakingviews – Three key indicators to watch like a hawk in 2019

Want to know whether there’s going to be a U.S. recession, a flare-up in the trade war, or a spate of corporate implosions?

…just stay focused on these three proxy indicators.

Soybeans. American farmers have been early victims of the escalating response to President Donald Trump’s import levies. When crops from other countries like Brazil are relatively more valuable, it suggests traders are more worried tariff barriers will persist.

U.S. yield curve. Different experts pick different comparisons, but in the past when the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds has dipped below the return on two-year government paper, a recession has followed. As 2018 draws to a close, the gap is once again very thin.

Corporate health. One hint at sentiment comes from indexes that track how many stocks in given markets are in bear territory, meaning they have fallen 20 percent or more in value from their peak prices in the last 12 months. About half are in that zone in developed markets and more in emerging economies. That might mean shares are cheap. Or it might signify negative sentiment and an accelerating slide in 2019.

This is very US-centric, but the health of the US economy has a major effect on the rest of the world, including us.

It is difficult to predict when recessions will occur, but one near certainty is that they will keep occurring. The world is overdue from an economic setback.

The New Zealand economy is in good shape, but can be easily impacted by overseas markets.

Fortunately Minister of Finance Grant Robertson took a prudent approach to his first budget in 2018. However there is pressure on the Government to deliver on it’s social promises – or at least on expectations on what a kinder more progressive government should be doing.

The best time for significant tax and social reform is when there is money available to do it, like now when our books are in surplus.

If major measures are not put in place before the next recession it will get a lot harder.

And back to the US – tax changes there have substantially increased US debt, so they are not in a good position to weather a recession. This could make an economic hiccup worse.

Trump successes in 2018

Marc Thiessen (Washington Post): The 10 best things Trump has done in 2018

10. He has secured the release of 19 people, including 16 Americans, from foreign captivity.

9. He delivered for the “forgotten Americans.” The Trump boom is benefiting those left behind by the Obama economy. Manufacturing jobs grew at the fastest rate in 23 years and the unemployment rate for Americans without a high school diploma reached the lowest point ever recorded.

8. He worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass important legislation. …Trump got a lot done on a bipartisan basis, including criminal justice reform, opioid and sex trafficking legislation, and a new “Right to Try” law giving dying Americans access to experimental medications.

7. He has ushered in a golden age for women in the CIA. Trump not only appointed Gina Haspel as the agency’s first female director but also made Elizabeth Kimber the first women to lead the agency’s clandestine service…

6. His push to expand domestic energy production bore fruit. This year the United States passed both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer.

5. In the six months after the Singapore summit with North Korea, he has made no concessions to Pyongyang.

He didn’t seem to make much progress on North Korea either, but at least he and Kim Jong Un have toned down their rhetoric.

4. He struck Syria again and eliminated the last vestiges of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate. For a second time, he enforced Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons. The militant group is far from defeated, but Trump is right that we have knocked “the hell out of ISIS.”

‘We’ includes Russia, Turkey and Iran. It’s probably premature to claim to celebrate the elimination of ISIS.

3. He’s continued his tough line with Moscow.

I’m not sure that Putin will be deterred much by a debatable ‘tough line’.

2. He pulled out of Obama’s disastrous Iran deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

I have no idea how crippled Iran is, and what difference sanctions will end up making.

1. He stood by Brett M. Kavanaugh and even in the worst moments never wavered. Trump has confirmed a record 85 judges in his first two years as president.

That’s the best thing trump has done? It will take time tell whether Kavanaugh turns out to be a prudent appointment or not.

There will be discussion on this at Kiwiblog: The 10 best things Trump did 2018

“Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border……”

This should really sort out trade and migration issues.

One could wonder whether international trade agreements mean anything with Trump as President (it doesn’t sound like he is in charge).

New Zealand may have dodged a bullet with Trump pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – I doubt that Trump has any idea about the concept of ‘partnership. or ‘agreement’.