17 years of rubble reduction in Afghanistan

It is seventeen years since the United States and Britain went to war (the latest one) in Afghanistan. There was some justof9cation for taking some sort of action, and there have been some successes, but it has largely been a failure. Long entrenched problems there remain unresolved.

It shows again that right (sort of) and might are not all-conquering. The US had already had a lesson on the futility of brute strength and ignorance in Vietnam, they were warned Afghanistan could be a mire too murky to force into being a model Western style state, but they tried anyway.

Washington Examiner:  Unhappy 17th birthday, Afghanistan War

Seventeen years ago today, the U.S. and Britain went to war to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. It was morally and politically justified by the Taliban’s failure to surrender al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Western alliance drove the Islamic totalitarians from power swiftly, within weeks.

Yet, we’re still there. On Thursday morning, another American serviceman was killed in battle in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,400 Americans have now died in this war, and Afghanistan is still mired in poverty, chaos, and violence.

What are we doing there? Why are we still fighting this war after 17 years?

‘We’ includes New Zealand, with our army deployment extended until next year and that will be subject to review again.

The three presidents to preside over this war have all failed to focus the mission clearly toward America’s real interest, which is to prevent multinational terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda from establishing a stronghold.

Instead, we took up the hopeless and endless task of nation-building. Every audit of American efforts to build a safe and stable Afghanistan have showed failure. The waste in money and lives goes on. The problem is not American incompetence or stinginess, but that the big goal has always been unrealistic.

Billions of dollars have been spent on schools, roads, and infrastructure projects in rural areas that remain under the heel of the Taliban. These projects could work only if America ran a police state, requiring hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines.

I think the US did learn something from their Vietnam nightmare – not to put large numbers of soldiers inn the firing line, but high-tech weaponry has only helped arms manufacturers to test their products and make money.

The issue in places such as Helmand is not simply that the Taliban dominate the area and cannot be dislodged, but that the area is a patchwork of fiefdoms run by local tribes with whom we are unable to deal.

The Bush dream that guns, money, and lawyers could build stable democratic societies anywhere on Earth has been tested in the field, and it has failed. In Iraq, where there was some memory of institutions, it has largely failed. In remote parts of Afghanistan, it has failed completely.

The hubris of the Bush doctrine was deeply unconservative. President Trump has taken a humbler route, directed toward wounding the Taliban to keep it weak, but not pretending to be able to eradicate it entirely. The administration has also finally made Pakistan understand it may not support our enemies in Afghanistan.

America’s goals should be to avoid making things worse in Afghanistan, contain the Taliban, and focus more on the Islamic State. These are not lofty goals, but lofty goals have proved to be pipe dreams that produced a 17-year nightmare.

What are the goals and dreams now?

The Economist: Donald Trump is doing better on Afghanistan than his predecessor (That’s not setting the bar very high):

A ONCE-popular argument that President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy is not substantially different from Barack Obama’s is going down in a blaze of trade agreements. Yet on Afghanistan it remains broadly true. Mr Obama came to power describing Afghanistan’s conflict as the “war we have to win”, but never seemed convinced that that was possible. After a stab at escalating the conflict, he devoted his presidency to ending it.

It was time, he said in 2011, the year the war became the longest in American history, “to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr Trump has long said the same. His decision to launch a much smaller escalation last year came with the closest thing he can muster to an apology attached: “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts.” Even so, his record on Afghanistan, including this week a promise of peace talks to add to that modest military reinforcement, is starting to look much better than his predecessor’s.

This chiefly reflects what a low bar Mr Obama set.

Unsurprisingly, then, Mr Trump’s measures have not transformed the battlefield, where the Taliban remain in the ascendant. Instead of encouraging the Afghan government to take back territory, America is reported to be urging it to withdraw from remote outposts to reduce casualties.

The level of violence continues to be horrifying, especially among civilians. More were killed in the first six months of this year than in any previous year on record, in part because of increased American bombing. Yet there is at least more confidence that the Taliban can be prevented from taking a major town. And the 315,000-strong Afghan armed forces are said to be improving. Compared with the debacle Mr Trump inherited, this represents progress.

Progress towards what?

America and its Afghan ally have been keen to negotiate with the insurgents since the demise of Mr Obama’s short-lived surge confirmed their inability to end the war militarily.

This is still a far cry from offering Mr Trump a way out.

Stitched together by British imperialists in the late 19th century, Afghanistan’s feuding ethnic groups have never shared power uncoerced, and 40 years of on-off civil war have made them even more reluctant to. The government is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It is hard to imagine how its members might accommodate the Taliban—even if they want to be accommodated. It is unclear that the mullahs have given up on a military victory.

It is even unclear which faction of the Taliban, the fundamentalist leadership or the more pragmatic rump, their representatives in Qatar might speak for. If Mr Trump does view the putative talks as a means to declare victory and quit Afghanistan, as some suspect, he has simply given up on the place.

Foreign Policy: One Year On, Little to Show for Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy

One year after President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be no closer to stabilizing the country and quelling the Taliban insurgency, according to analysts and a report issued by U.S. Defense Department.

The strategy has included a greater focus on defending population centers while ceding much of the remote countryside to the insurgents.

Pentagon officials say the measures are working.

But the situation on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban maintain their grip on much of the country, and the civilian death toll has reached a record high, according to a recent report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Also, the Islamic State in Khorasan, the Afghan arm of the Islamic State, continues to carry out high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.

An Afghan girl walks amid the rubble of shops in Shadel Bazar after the US military dropped a GBU-43 Moab bomb.

Seth Jones, a senior advisor to the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said data suggested that the Taliban’s control of populated areas overall, primarily in rural regions, had actually increased.

The problem with the administration’s strategy of ceding the more remote areas of the country to the Taliban is that the insurgents increasingly are using the rural terrain to conduct attacks within major urban areas, he explained.

Another component of the U.S. military’s strategy in Afghanistan is to build up the Afghan military, train the Afghan air force, and equip it with high-end gear, such as fighter aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

But the Afghan air force’s rapid increase in strike capability seems to be accompanied by a steep rise in civilian casualties.

Jones said Trump’s strategy failed in another critical way: It has done little to prevent Pakistan from harboring Taliban fighters.

“What the U.S. has not been able to do is fundamentally change Pakistan’s behavior,” Jones said. “This is serious problem with the South Asia strategy. I’m not that optimistic over the long run.”

This cartoon from seventeen years ago may still be close to the mark.

The only rubble reduction on Afghanistan seems to be it’s size.

How the Obama handling of the Financial Crisis enabled Trump

An article by Joshua Green on how the Obama administration’s handling of the Global Financial Crisis – protecting financial institutions responsible rather than publishing – built deep resentment that was exploited successfully by Trump’s campaign. And how Trump is taking similar risks of resentment by favouring big business and lauding the Wall Street bull run that continues.

Bloomberg: The Biggest Legacy of the Financial Crisis Is the Trump Presidency

(Treasury Secretary Timothy) and Obama saw the crisis primarily as a macroeconomic event that could be solved through a series of aggressive technical fixes. As they arranged the mergers, bailouts, and Fed lifelines that rescued corporations from Citigroup to General Motors to Goldman Sachs, they prided themselves on their ability to tune out the public’s justified anger at the greed and recklessness exhibited by financiers and mortgage lenders. This extended even to some clear-cut abuses of the public trust that occurred on their watch, such as when American International Group Inc.—by then a ward of the state—decided to hand out bonuses.

What was so surreal about this period was not Obama’s conviction that growth was a magical elixir that would set everything right. It was his belief that achieving it required him to protect, rather than punish, those who’d driven the economy into the ground.

Summoning the chief executive officers of the major banks to the White House in the spring of 2009, Obama told them, “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” Like flagellants, he and his economic team were willing to absorb the lashing that should rightfully have been directed at his Wall Street guests, in the belief that shielding them advanced a higher purpose.

Ten years after the crisis, it’s clear Obama was foolish to think public sentiment could be negated or held at bay.

Millions of people lost their job, their home, their retirement account—or all three—and fell out of the middle class. Many more live with a gnawing anxiety that they still could. Wages were stagnant when the crisis hit and have remained so throughout the recovery. Recently the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. workers’ share of nonfarm income has fallen close to a post-World War II low.

…a substantial number of Americans saw the rising stock market not as a gauge of economic revitalization but as an infuriating reminder that the financial overclass responsible for the crisis not only got off scot-free but was also getting richer in the bargain.

Some political irony there given it happened under a Democrat presidency.

The story of American politics over the past decade is the story of how the forces Obama and Geithner failed to contain reshaped the world. The day-to-day drama of bank failures and bailouts eventually faded from the headlines. But the effects of the disruption never went away, unleashing partisan energies on the Left (Occupy Wall Street) and the Right (the Tea Party) that wiped out the political era that came before and ushered in a poisonous, polarizing one.

The critical massing of conditions that led to Donald Trump had their genesis in the backlash.

The biggest effect of the financial crisis and its aftermath was a loss of faith in U.S. institutions.

Antipathy toward Wall Street eventually became distrust of the government, which not only struggled to mitigate the effects of the meltdown but also began producing its own crises, including a debt default scare in 2011 and a shutdown two years later.

In 2013, five years into the recovery, Gallup discovered that Americans no longer considered “economic issues” to be the most pressing national problem: “Government” had replaced them as the top concern.

And the Republicans stoked this flame.

The other reason the financial crisis became such a powerful shaping force in our politics is that Republicans (and later Democrats such as Bernie Sanders) weaponized it for their own ends. The architect of this strategy was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell made the cold-eyed calculation that public anger over the crisis could be harnessed for political gain.

The ensuing polarization helped Republicans win the House in 2010 and the Senate four years later. McConnell failed to achieve his goal of making Obama “a one-term president,” mainly because Democrats flipped the script in 2012 and painted Mitt Romney as a Wall Street-friendly “vulture capitalist.”

So both Obama’s Democrats and the Republicans, and ‘the swamp’ were jointly seen as badly tarnished.

By the time Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, Americans of every persuasion had soured on the “elites” running both parties, something his Republican opponents didn’t understand until far too late. Today, his campaign is remembered as having been driven mostly by anti-immigrant animosity.

But at Steve Bannon’s insistence, Trump spent loads of time attacking Wall Street on behalf of the forgotten little guy and fanning the suspicion that a cabal of political and financial eminences was screwing ordinary people.

His closing message in the campaign consciously evoked the disgust so many people had come to feel toward Wall Street and Washington.

His final ad on the eve of the election flashed images of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and sought to implicate them, and Hillary Clinton, in what Trump called “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”

He added, “The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you.” It’s no surprise this message struck a chord: What is Trump if not the embodiment of a balled fist and a vow to deliver Old Testament justice?

Trump succeeded despite his obvious weaknesses and failings because he was seen by enough ordinary voters as anti-Government and anti-establishment.

Since his inauguration, of course, Trump has proved to be anything but the scourge of Wall Street. His central legislative achievement is a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that has delighted financial elites and pushed markets higher, even as it polls so badly with rank-and-file voters that GOP politicians are hesitant to campaign on it.

Trump keeps pushing the financial markets and Wall Street as a sign of success for him. Recently:

Lately, the energy on the Left has been around big, budget-busting ideas such as free college tuition and Medicare for all that are themselves a response to the crisis—a ratcheting up of demands on the government by those unhappy with the narrowness of the recovery.

Lurking among these proposals is a long-thwarted desire to square accounts with the Wall Street-Washington establishment that has steered the political economy since the crisis.

It’s hard to know whether people will turn sour over Trump’s favouring of the financial establishment and his claims that he is responsible for their success. A difference with Trump is the level of blind belief in him by many people, who see him as doing no wrong no matter what he does.

Predicting how this energy will further shape our politics is all but impossible. When Geithner and I sat in his office back in 2010 contemplating what might lie ahead, neither of us could have fathomed (nor could anyone else) that one consequence of the financial wreckage would be President Donald Trump.

The lesson that stands out all these years later is the same one Geithner was just coming to appreciate: Ignoring popular sentiment always has political consequences, and they’re often ones we can’t possibly imagine.

Right now it is hard to imagine how the Trump presidency will turn out. Perhaps he can survive his financial establishment duplicity while the markets are doing well, but if the record length bull market goes belly up then Trump may end up being trashed like those before him who enabled his rise.

Obama’s statement on Iran deal withdrawal

The Iran nuclear deal was done under Barack Obama’s presidency. It was strongly criticised and opposed by Donald Trump, who has just withdrawn the US from the deal.

Obama has made a statement in response.


There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the United States negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.

The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest – it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish – its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.

That is why today’s announcement is so misguided. Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.

Debates in our country should be informed by facts, especially debates that have proven to be divisive. So it’s important to review several facts about the JCPOA.

First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my Administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. For decades, Iran had steadily advanced its nuclear program, approaching the point where they could rapidly produce enough fissile material to build a bomb. The JCPOA put a lid on that breakout capacity. Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran has destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – the raw materials necessary for a bomb. So by any measure, the JCPOA has imposed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and achieved real results.

Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust – it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, so that we can catch them if they cheat. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away.

Fourth, Iran is complying with the JCPOA. That was not simply the view of my Administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal, and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire. The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.

Finally, the JCPOA was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran. We were clear-eyed that Iran engages in destabilizing behavior – including support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel and its neighbors. But that’s precisely why it was so important that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.

Because of these facts, I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East. We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. It could embolden an already dangerous regime; threaten our friends with destruction; pose unacceptable dangers to America’s own security; and trigger an arms race in the world’s most dangerous region. If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.

In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.

Obama and Clinton revisited

For those who complain about the attention Trump keeps getting from media, he is not the only one under ongoing scrutiny:

That is looking back ten years.

And…

One should expect the current President of the United States of America to attract the most attention compared to past presidents and failed candidates.

Most admired US man and woman

Gallup has done a poll on the most admired man and woman since 1946, and not surprisingly gain for 2017 they mostly admire US leaders.

But preferences are spread, and a quarter of respondents don’t indicate any person they most admire – I’m not surprised by this, especially when the top choices are not particularly admirable, and being politicians receive partisan support.

Gallup: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton Retain Most Admired Titles

  • Barack Obama edges out Donald Trump as most admired man
  • Hillary Clinton wins narrow victory over Michelle Obama
  • Clinton has won the past 16 years; Obama the past 10

Obama and Clinton topping the polls suggests a lack of admirable options.

Most Admired Man and Woman — Recent Trend for Top Finishers in 2017
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
% % % % %
Most Admired Man
Barack Obama 16 19 17 22 17
Donald Trump * * 5 15 14
Pope Francis 4 6 5 4 3
Rev. Billy Graham 2 2 1 1 2
John McCain * * * * 2
Elon Musk * * * * 2
Bernie Sanders * * 3 2 1
Bill Gates 1 1 2 1 1
Benjamin Netanyahu * 1 * 1 1
Jeff Bezos * * * * 1
The Dalai Lama * * 1 1 1
Mike Pence * * * 1 1
Most Admired Woman
Hillary Clinton 15 12 13 12 9
Michelle Obama 5 3 4 8 7
Oprah Winfrey 6 8 4 3 4
Elizabeth Warren * 1 1 1 3
Angela Merkel 1 1 2 3 2
Queen Elizabeth II 1 1 2 2 2
Condoleezza Rice 2 4 1 2 1
Melania Trump * * * * 1
Nikki Haley * * * * 1
Duchess Kate Middleton 1 2 * 1 1
Beyonce Knowles * 1 * * 1
Note: Combined first and second mentions; Rankings are based on total number of responses; *Less than 0.5%
GALLUP, DEC. 4-11, 2017

This is very US -centric. I don’t particularly admire any of those on either list, except perhaps John McCain and Angela Merkel, and Bernie Sanders deserves some admiration but for his efforts in 2016.

The 2017 survey marks the 16th consecutive year Clinton has been the most admired woman. She has held the title 22 times in total, more than anyone else. Eleanor Roosevelt is second with 13 wins.

The 9% who name Clinton is the lowest percentage she has received since 2002, when 7% named her in another close first-place finish. Clinton won the title this year in the same poll she registered a personal low favorable rating.

Obama has now been named the most admired man 10 times, trailing only Dwight Eisenhower, who earned the distinction 12 times. Obama won all eight years he was president, plus 2008 — the year he was first elected — and this year, his first as a former president.

The percentage of adults naming Obama as the most admired man is down from 22% last year, but he has been at or near 17% in several other years.

 

The Queen (of England) has been in the list but never top for a long time.

Hillary Clinton has finished in the top 10 26 times, the fifth most among women. She trails two of this year’s other top 10 finishers — Queen Elizabeth II (who holds the record for women, with 49 appearances) and Oprah Winfrey (named for the 30th time, third behind former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 34 appearances and ahead of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ 28 during their lifetimes).

Despite their frequent appearances on the list, neither the queen nor Winfrey has ever finished first.

Not surprisingly preferences are highly partisan.

Obama leads among Democrats, with 39% mentioning him and 3% Trump.

Trump wins handily among Republicans — 35% name him as the man they admire most, with only 1% naming Obama.

Independents are slightly more likely to name Obama (12%) than Trump (9%).

Incumbency usually but not always ensures prominence.

The incumbent president is the usual winner, since he is arguably the most prominent figure in the country — but when the president is unpopular, other well-known and well-liked men have been able to finish first.

Former presidents commonly make the top 10 list but rarely win, with Obama only the second to do so, along with Eisenhower in 1967 and 1968.

Trump might have to do some more tweeting.

Reaction to US withdrawal from Paris climate agreement

It was no surprise that Donald Trump announced a US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, he would have risked serious questions from his support base if he had reneged on one of his biggest campaign promises.

But there has been a lot of criticism from around the world, which not surprising given that the US is one of only three countries that are out of the Paris agreement – and one of those because it doesn’t do enough to combat climate change.

There has been a more mixed reaction from the US. Many have been critical, from corporations to ex-politicians like Michael Bloomburg (Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is launching a coalition to defy Trump and uphold the Paris Agreement) and Arnold (Schwarzenegger on Paris agreement: ‘One man cannot destroy our progress’).

And an ex-President:

But the Trump administration is defending the withdrawal.

“Exiting Paris does not mean disengagement.”

“People have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier… I would say that there are climate exaggerators.”

“We’ve led with action, not words.”

The action of withdrawal is not leading.

We’re just not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage.”

Getting out of step with the rest of the world on climate change may turn out to be more of a disadvantage.

Does President Trump believes climate change is a hoax?

He doesn’t know what Trump believes about climate change? Communications fail big time, whether he doesn’t know or is not disclosing.

There have been a number of claims that Trump doesn’t understand the Paris Accord, or climate change.

Trump’s speech announcing withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change has been analysed.

Vox: The 5 biggest deceptions in Trump’s Paris climate speech

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a speech announcing that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

It is a remarkable address, in its own way, in that virtually every passage contains something false or misleading.

1) No, an agreement cannot be both nonbinding and draconian (Spoiler: Paris is the former)

Early on in the speech, Trump said: “Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

2) No, Paris cannot be “renegotiated”

Trump said the US will “begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. If we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”

As mentioned above, each country determines its own contribution. That’s why they’re called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Each country is free to revise its NDC at any time — no negotiations needed. If Trump wants different terms he just has to say so.

3) No, abiding by the agreement will not cost the US a bazillion dollars

“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord … could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” Trump said. “The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lowered GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and in many cases, much worse than that.”

To support these ludicrous assertions, Trump cited a study (progress, I suppose!) from National Economic Research Associates. The study was commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation and the US Chamber of Commerce, two longstanding corporate anti-tax lobbying groups. To help with their lobbying, they needed a study that showed Paris targets would cost a bazillion dollars. So they ordered one from NERA, and NERA, as per its reputation, delivered.

Rachel Becker at the Verge has a great post looking at some of the study’s assumptions. (Washington Post’s FactCheck also has some good stuff on it.) Suffice to say, it’s a model rigged to show high costs. It doesn’t count the value of avoided emissions; tech innovation slows for no apparent reason; businesses do not innovate to avoid costs, they just absorb them. It flies in the face not only of most other models, but of recent experience, in which growth in advanced energy has outpaced even the most optimistic forecasts. The sector is now adding jobs at a faster clip than virtually any other economic sector.

4) No, China and India are not getting away with anything

“Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America,” Trump said, “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants but they can. According to this agreement, India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours.”

First, side note, it’s not clear that Trump has any clue what “clean coal” means. Insofar as it has any meaning, it means coal plants that capture and bury their carbon emissions. Far from “blocking” the development of clean coal, a commitment to reducing carbon emissions is the only reason to invest in it.

But then, I think Trump just says “clean coal” when he means “coal” because lolnothingmatters.

Second, China is not “allowed” to do anything. Like all other participants, China offered its own NDC and can revise it at any time. The only one in control of China’s policies is China.

Third, China is still building (advanced, cleaner) coal plants because, unlike the US, it does not have access to cheap, abundant natural gas, which has been the main driver of recent US carbon reductions.

Fourth, India (which also won’t be “allowed” to do anything) is, in fact, projected to use more coal, but it is working at breakneck speed to transition. It has pledged to get 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, which will include building out 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022. India is set to pass Japan this year to become the world’s third largest market for solar (after China and the US).

Fifth and finally, we’re not “supposed to get rid of” our coal plants. Coal plants are closing (and not getting built) because coal is getting its ass kicked on the market.

5) No, other nations are not laughing at us behind our backs — or they weren’t, anyway

“The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States, while empowering some of the world’s top polluting countries, should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement,” Trump said. “It is to give their country an economic edge over the United States.”

Here we come to the root of the matter: tribalism. The tribalist (or “nationalist” as they are often called) sees all relationships, including relationships among nations, as zero-sum contests. There are only strong and weak, dominator and dominated, winners and losers.

For the millionth time, a voluntary deal cannot hamstring anyone, nor can it empower anyone. But the tribalist brain simply cannot grok an arrangement of mutual long-term benefit. So it must be unsavory “foreign lobbyists” trying to get us “tied up and bound down” so that they can drain our precious bodily fluids.

“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”

We feel ridiculous and weak and the only way to restore our fragile ego is with dominance displays, to show everyone once and for all that we are in charge and the most important.

I think that last paragraph sums up one of Trump’s biggest flaws.

CNN: Author of MIT climate study says Trump got it wrong

>President Donald Trump used a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study to back up his departure from the Paris climate agreement on Thursday. But one of the study’s authors says the President misinterpreted their data, showing “a complete misunderstanding of the climate problem.”

John Reilly, the co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, told CNN Friday that he was unaware the White House was going to cite the study and only found out that they were mentioned when he was contacted by a Reuters reporter.

<href=”http://news.mit.edu/2016/how-much-difference-will-paris-agreement-make-0422&#8243; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>How much of a difference will the Paris Agreement make?” — looked at the incremental changes in the accord that would happen if countries kept their promises. It found that over a 5- to 10-year period global warming would slow between 0.6 degree and 1.1 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

“Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full,” Trump said Thursday, “with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a 2/10’s of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.”

He then held up his hand, pushed two fingers together and said, “tiny, tiny amount.”

Talking points distributed by the White House also explicitly cited MIT.

The comment and the talking points were meant to undercut the efficacy of the Paris agreement, a claim that Reilly says is wrong.

“The whole statement seemed to suggest a complete misunderstanding of the climate problem,” Reilly said. “I think Paris was a very good deal for the United States, contrary to what they are claiming.”

He added: “This one small step with Paris is a necessary step. It is an incredibly important step. If we don’t take the step than we aren’t prepared to take the next step.”

Will Trump or any his supporters care about any of the criticism? Probably not when related to climate change.

But the level of disagreement and criticism from within the US and around the world is likely to be another blow to Trump’s ego.

Pressure on Trump as he stands by wiretap claim

Sean Spicer has flailed in attempts to explain Donald Trumps wiretap claims, while Trump continues to reassert his claims despite still producing no evidence (in public at least).

SpicerZeroIntelligence

That’s from a video of a media conference with edits shown at Business Insider – ‘CALM DOWN’: Watch Sean Spicer spar with reporters over Trump’s wiretap claims

That particular sequence went:

Spicer: Somehow, you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

Reporter: I haven’t been read in by the FBI…but the House and Senate committees have been

Spicer: So you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy who has zero intelligence…ee ah…classifi…

[Laughter]

That was funny and even Spicer smiled. But it’s very ironic considering how little information Spicer has had in trying to defend the president’s accusations, and how little intelligence the President appears to have had to base his claims on.

And in his meeting with Angela Merkel Trump reiterated his claims.

Fox News: Trump stands by wiretap claim, jokes he has ‘something in common’ with Merkel

President Trump on Friday once again suggested former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election, joking during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that they have “something in common.”

Trump continues to face pressure to provide evidence for his widely disputed claims that Trump Tower was the target of an Obama administration wiretap during the presidential campaign.

On the sidelines of the press conference, Trump’s Justice Department said it had “complied” with a request from several congressional committees for information relating to surveillance during the 2016 election. A high-profile hearing is set for Monday that could turn up answers on the matter, and confirm or refute certain allegations.

At the same press conference Friday, Trump also was asked about claims originally made by a Fox News analyst regarding British intelligence services.

“We said nothing,” Trump said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for [the claim].”

Trump was referring to a report by Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, charging that British intelligence services were involved in the alleged spying of then-candidate Trump.

The allegation was cited by spokesman Sean Spicer at Thursday’s White House briefing. British officials have vigorously denied the claims, and Fox News cannot confirm the allegations.

Napolitano’s claims  are still on Fox News’ website in a column:

Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ — a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms — has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.

Fox News have added a link to the GCHQ’s statement.

In a public statement in the UK the Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, echoed the vigorous denials:

…I should make clear that the President of the United States is not able to task GCHQ to intercept an individual’s communications.

…an individual can only be the target of interception by GCHQ under a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. Such warrants can only authorise action where it is necessary and proportionate for a valid national security purpose. It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described.

I note GCHQ’s public denial of the potentially damaging allegations against them. This was an unusual step by the Agency, but it clearly indicates the strength of feeling about this issue, and I echo that sentiment.

See UK v Trump on GCHQ accusation.

Trump contradicted himself with “We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for [the claim]”. The president is saying nothing when he quotes?

“Fox News cannot confirm the allegations” – Shepard Smith said on Fox News:

Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.

Bret Baier on Fox News:

We love the Judge. We love him here at Fox, but the Fox News division was never able to back up those claims, and was never reported on this show on Special Report.

So Trump appears to be relying on claims made on Fox by one person that Fox can’t verify. Why they haven’t checked things out with Judge Napolitano?

In less important news: Tillerson refuses to rule out nuclearization of Asian allies to keep North Korea in check

“Nothing has been taken off the table,” he said, when asked whether he would rule out nuclearization of the peninsula, during the interview with Fox News.

Tillerson, who’s called the past 20 years of diplomacy toward North Korea a failure, has said the world needs a new strategy.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level we believe requires action that option is on the table”.

This may be of historic interest: US releases secret footage of nuclear bomb tests

Nothing to worry about.

UK v Trump on GCHQ accusation

The UK  Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has issued a statement categorically refuting Donald Trump’s claim that the GCHQ assisted the President Obama to wiretap Donald Trump.


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17 March 2017

The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP, has today issued the following statement:

The Committee is aware of the allegations that the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, tasked GCHQ to ‘wire tap’ the now President of the United States, Donald Trump, during the 2016 US Presidential election.

First, I should make clear that the President of the United States is not able to task GCHQ to intercept an individual’s communications.

Second, long-standing agreements between the Five Eyes countries means that the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand cannot ask each other to target each other’s citizens or individuals that they cannot themselves target, or in any other way seek to circumvent their own or each other’s legal and policy obligations.

Third, an individual can only be the target of interception by GCHQ under a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. Such warrants can only authorise action where it is necessary and proportionate for a valid national security purpose. It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described.<

I note GCHQ’s public denial of the potentially damaging allegations against them. This was an unusual step by the Agency, but it clearly indicates the strength of feeling about this issue, and I echo that sentiment.

http://isc.independent.gov.uk/news-archive/17march2017


So this makes it approximately everyone denying Trump’s accusations have any basis, and Trump has come up with approximately no evidence to support his accusations.

The people didn’t come

In his inauguration speech Donald trump said “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

It’s not clear exactly what he was referring to there. But it appears to not be about the crowd at his inauguration.

From Vox: Photos: the crowd at Donald Trump’s inauguration vs. Barack Obama’s

Taken at about 11:30 AM ET in 2009 at Barack Obama’s inauguration:

gettyimages_84374977

Taken at about 11:04 AM ET in 2017 at Donald Trump’s inauguration:

screen_shot_2017_01_20_at_11-04-49_am

Federal and local agencies have estimated that anywhere from 700,000 to 900,000 people will be in Washington, DC, today for Trump’s inauguration. That’s roughly half the number of people who attended Obama’s inauguration in 2009. It’s also less than the turnout for Obama’s 2013 inauguration, which drew 1 million people.

Trump has a lot to do if he wants to be a popular president.

Obama’s legacy

As Barack Obama prepares to leave the White House obituaries for his presidency are being rolled out.

It should be remembered that he took office just as a major financial crisis hit the United States and the world. At least under Obama the US avoided the Global Financial Crisis becoming the worst ever rather than the worst since the Great depression.

Obama’s greatest achievement was to provide healthcare for over 25 million citizens (although, another 20 million are still uncovered_ – but this is likely to be dumped by Trump.

Otherwise Obama is best known for underachievement and lack of delivery.

ODT: A legacy unravelling

Barack Obama started his tenure as the President of the United States with such hope. The first black president of the US is a skilled orator who promised so much, not only for African Americans but for voters who felt disenfranchised and left behind.

Along with his wife Michelle, Mr Obama was living proof African Americans could achieve every goal to which they aspired, as long as they overcame the obvious racial barriers still prominent in the US.

As he prepares to leave office next week, the adulation is flowing for Mr Obama but how will history view him?

The legacy Mr Obama will leave is already being unravelled by critics on both the left and right of the American political spectrum.

He failed to deliver on a lot of promise and promises.

Cornel West at The Guardian: Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama

Our hope and change candidate fell short time and time again.

Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him.

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikesunintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.
This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism.Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.

The Us didn’t do well under GW Bush, with Iraq being a major blot and he ended his eight years in office handing over a financial crisis.

Obama negotiated through the GFC but didn’t unblot the Middle east misadventure and did little else of lasting note.

Trump may suddenly stop being a flip flopping buffoon and become a responsible reforming leader for his country and he may take the world by diplomatic storm, but predictions he surely must stop playing the fool as he gets into positions of responsibility have proven to be false in the past.

One way or another Obama’s legacy is likely to be overshadowed by Trump’s (that’s already happening before Trump takes over), and it’s unlikely to enhance memories of Obama’s tenure as President.

Obama hasn’t tipped the US over a precipice, but he has overseen his country’s slide to the edge.