Trump impeachment hearing continues

Fox News: Yovanovitch testifies of being ‘kneecapped,’ as Trump claims everywhere she worked ‘turned bad’

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, pointed her finger at President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani while detailing her sudden removal from her diplomatic post during Friday’s nationally-televised impeachment testimony, as the president fired back in realtime and said every place she worked “turned bad.”

Earlier in the week Trump claimed that the hearing was boring and not worth wasting time on.

Trump’s comments ignited an outcry from Democrats: Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff read Trump’s anti-Yovanovitch tweet during the hearing, and called it “witness intimidation.”

During her appearance, Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her story of being suddenly recalled by Trump in May, saying she believes Giuliani played a key role in telling people she was not sufficiently supportive of the president.

“I do not understand Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me,” Yovanovitch said.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/ousted-ambassador-marie-yovanovitch-testifies-trump-impeachment-hearings

Trump has released the transcript of an earlier phone call with the Ukraine president.

Fox:

At the same time the hearing began Friday, the White House released a new transcript of the president’s first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which showed Trump agreeing to meet with Ukraine’s president-elect — without preconditions — in the first official phone call between the two leaders.

Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., read the entire letter in his opening statement. A separate call between the two leaders ignited the impeachment inquiry, and Republicans suggested the new transcript is helpful to the president’s argument he did nothing wrong in his conversations with Zelensky.
https://www.foxnews.com/politics/ousted-ambassador-marie-yovanovitch-testifies-trump-impeachment-hearings

That’s a nonsense claim by Nunes. What was said in one call doesn’t negate what was said in a separate later call.

Trump has been busy trying to distract from the hearing.

Trump impeachment hearing

The US Congress is holding a hearing into the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump, with allegations he used the office of President to pressure the Ukraine into investigating a political opponent, Joe Biden.

Partisan lines have been drawn, with the Democrat majority in Congress pushing the impeachment process, while Republicans claim it is a virtual coup attempt.

A White House spokesperson called it boring and a sham, while of course Trump is grumpy about it all.

Remarkably (but probably not surprising given how politics and even law can work in the US these days) it is claimed that public opinion is the key to whether impeachment will proceed or succeed or not.

Real Clear Politics – Watch Live: House Impeachment Inquiry Hearing

Ambassador William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testify in the first day of public impeachment inquiry hearings before the House Intelligence Committee.

Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearing by saying Trump’s alleged actions are not “compatible with the office of the presidency.”

Republican ranking member Devin Nunes called the hearing a “coup against the President” and “televised theatrical performance.”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued the first public reaction to Wednesday’s hearing in the House impeachment inquiry, calling it a “sham,” “boring,” and a “colossal waste” of time

In his opening statement, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent said he thought “Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations” had infected U.S. relations with Ukraine.

William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, agreed, saying the “official foreign policy of the United States was undercut by the irregular efforts led by Mr. Giuliani” to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

Stuff – Live: The Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic committee chairman, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry – whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” Schiff said. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”

For the first time a top diplomat has testified that President Donald Trump was overheard asking about “the investigations” that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the presidentialimpeachment inquiry.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, revealed the new information as the House Intelligence Committee opened extraordinary hearings on whether the 45th president of the United States should be removed from office.

The anonymous whistleblower’s complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general – including that Trump had pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son and was holding up US military aid – ignited the impeachment inquiry.

The hearing is the first chance for America, and the rest of the world, to see and hear for themselves about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offences.

The first witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, said he never heard any US official try to shield a Ukraine company from investigations, directly contradicting a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House.

It’s hard to see this changing the minds of entrenched Trump supporters who forgive him just about anything, nor Trump opponents who see him as an egotistical and incompetent stain on the presidency.

Trump calls the whole thing a “witch hunt,” a retort that echoes Nixon’s own defence. “READ THE TRANSCRIPT,” he tweeted Wednesday.

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked the Zelenskiy for “a favour.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, all while holding as leverage military aid the young democracy relies on as it confronts an aggressive Russia.

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the phone call. The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, with portions deleted.

The White House has instructed administration officials not to testify in the inquiry. But over the past month, witness after witness has appeared behind closed doors to tell the investigators what they know.

The circus continues.

If polls are bad demand a new pollster

Donald Trump made the news a month ago (I can’t remember where) – his approval polls were better than Barack Obama’s at the same time in their terms. But that was brief as Obama’s polling recovered and Trump’s dipped.

While polling for past presidents has fluctuated Trump’s approval/disapproval polling has been more consistent – and worse than Obama, GW Bush and Bill Clinton just bout all the time.  See FiveThirtyEight How Trump compares with past presidents

Lately even the Rasmussen polls, which usually tend to favour Trump, have him -11% , and the aggregate is currently 55% disapprove, 41.1% approve.

There have been shows of public disapproval recently – here is the second:

A poll from one of Trump’s favoured media has been described by him as ‘lousy’.

USA Today: ‘I have the real polls’: Trump calls Fox News polls ‘lousy’ after survey finds 49% support impeachment

Trump’s ‘real poll’ has him on 100% approval – it has a sample size of 1 and a margin of error of 0%, according to him.

President Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed polls that have found growing support for his impeachment as a new Fox News poll found that 49% of registered voters think he should be removed from office.

“You’re reading the wrong polls,” Trump told reporters when asked about the surveys outside the White House. “I have the real polls. The CNN polls are fake. The Fox polls have always been lousy I tell them they ought to get themselves a new pollster.”

Keep changing the pollster until you get the results you want? Funny how he says that CNN polls are fake, but Fox polls are just lousy.

Trump said “the real polls” that came out that same morning showed that “people don’t want anything to do with impeachment.” But the president did not explain what polls he was referring to.

He may have made that up. probably. He is well known for making things up. Lying.

Trump is currently facing an impeachment inquiry for allegedly using military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating potential interference in the U.S. 2016 election and allegations involving former Vice President Joe Biden.

Despite several witnesses who have appeared to corroborate the allegations against Trump, the 49% who said they want the president removed from office actually represented a two-point drop from the previous Fox News poll in early October.

When asked if there was a chance that new evidence could sway their opinion on impeachment, 57% of those who opposed it said there was nothing that could get them to change their minds.

There is a significant minority of Trump supporters who re unlikely to change their minds no matter what he says or does. But another significant portion of voters are the key to his re-election chances, if he lasts in the job long enough to stand again.

Thirty-four percent said new evidence could make them support impeachment.

Sixty percent of voters said they thought Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and 52% believed he held up military aid to add pressure for Ukraine to do it and 46% said the affair had worsened their opinion of Trump.

Trump and his Republican defenders have dismissed the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated “witch hunt” but a majority (52%) of voters said it was legitimate. Thirty-nine percent said it was a “bogus attempt to undermine Trump’s presidency.”

The US political circus continues.

Of course there’s a chance that Trump will survive impeachment, and win the presidential election next year. If he does that will have more to do with the lack of decent Democrat candidates than his own achievements and behaviour.

Sure Trump has achieved some positive things. All presidents do. But one of Trump’s biggest achievements  is how much he has degraded the position of president of the United States. On that he is well ahead of anyone else.

With the help of his family:

 

US House condemn Trump over Syria, Pence in Turkey

MSN: House condemns Trump’s Syria withdrawal

In a stinging bipartisan rebuke, the House on Wednesday condemned President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Voting 354 to 60, lawmakers approved a non-binding resolution opposing the move, which set the stage for Turkey’s military assault against Kurdish forces in Syria that the U.S. partnered with to beat back Islamic State terrorists.

“What kind of message does this send to the world? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners?” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) asked on the House floor. “Congress must speak out against this disgrace.”

The top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he understood Trump’s “legitimate concerns” about committing troops overseas, but said the president’s Syria pullout had damaged U.S. interests in the region.

“I, too, want to wind down our overseas conflicts and bring our troops home,” McCaul said. “But leaving [northeast] Syria now does not resolve the problem that brought us there in the first place. It only creates more.”

“We need a residual force in place,” he added. “The consequences of this decision have already unfolded before our very eyes.”

The resolution is non-binding and doesn’t condemn Trump by name. It calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to halt Turkey’s military campaign in Syria and urges humanitarian support to displaced Syrian Kurds and calls on the U.S. to ensure Turkey “acts with restraint and respects existing agreements related to Syria.”

The resolution also urges the Trump administration to outline “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Reuters: Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will urge Turkey on Thursday to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, a day after President Donald Trump threatened heavy sanctions over the operation.

Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump defended his move on Wednesday and called it “strategically brilliant”.

Trump is one of very few who have praised how he has handled this.

Pence will meet Erdogan around 1130 GMT, while Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts. A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey’s position.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a “successful meeting”, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise. Kalin said that Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.

Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists.

Trump’s decision to withhold protection from Syrian Kurds upended five years of U.S. policy.

It has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale. In a rare criticism of Turkish policy on Syria, Moscow said Turkish troops had the right to temporarily go up to a maximum of 10 km into Syria, under a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.

Syrian troops, accompanied by Russian forces, have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.

The White House tried to talk tough (-ish):

The White House, fighting the domestic political damage and perhaps trying to demonstrate the president’s efforts to stop the offensive, released a Trump letter to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!”

But Erdogan is acting unmoved.

Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk, quoting sources, said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict, saying the letter was “thrown in the trash”.

Think: Trump’s letter to Turkey’s Erdogan shows the U.S. is struggling to keep up with Ankara

President Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him not to go after an enemy Kurdish military group in neighboring Syria as U.S. troops depart the war-torn country, indicates that the U.S. president wants to corner his Turkish counterpart. But Erdogan, who has run Turkey for nearly two decades, may well be smarter than to let himself be trapped.

So far, the Turkish president shows no sign of stopping his relentless advance despite the threat of American sanctions Trump delivered in his missive, made public Wednesday but penned last week. Erdogan has calculated that even if the sanctions come, they won’t be sufficient to disrupt the Turkish military strategy; he figures that what Trump wants most is to bring U.S. troops home, and he won’t do much more to prevent the offensive against the Kurds.

The BBC is just reporting: Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, US says

Turkey agrees to pause operation in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw – US Vice-President Mike Pence

Turkey launches attack on Kurds in Syria

In a surprise and widely criticised move President Donald Trump announced that US troops were being withdrawn from Syria. This was seen as a green light to Turkey to go in and attack the Kurds, who were US allies.

Turkey has announced they have launched attacks on the Kurds.

Fox News: ‘Huge panic’ as Turkish warplanes bomb Kurdish civilian targets in Syria after US withdrawal: report

President Trump is calling Turkey’s ongoing military assault in Syria a “bad idea” Wednesday as reports are emerging of civilians being caught in the crossfire of a long-standing feud between Ankara and Kurdish forces.

Many said his sudden withdrawal of US troops was a bad idea which was predicted to result in what is happening now.

His comments come hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Peace Spring — a mission that will “neutralize terror threats against Turkey and lead to the establishment of a safe zone, facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homes.”

Trump has been heavily criticized throughout the week following his decision Sunday to pull American troops out of northern Syria, leaving the Kurdish forces — who have been longtime U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria — in peril. Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish forces as terrorists allied with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

“There are no American soldiers in the area,” he added.

No US troops, just ex-allies of the US that Trump suddenly abandoned.

A spokesperson for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces says Turkish warplanes on Wednesday have “started to carry out airstrikes on civilian areas,” causing a “huge panic among people of the region.”

The Kurds requested air support from American forces in response to the strikes. But U.S. military officials tell Fox News that Trump has ordered them to not get involved.

Fox News: Lindsey Graham warns Trump on Syria troop withdrawal: ‘It’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency’

If President Trump follows through on his proposed troop withdrawal from Syria, it would be one of the biggest follies of his presidency and cause ISIS to reemerge in the region, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends.”

Trump tweeted about the issue on Wednesday and said the United States should never have been in the Middle East in the first place. He also put the onus on Turkey to stabilize the region and take up arms against any remaining ISIS elements.

“That’s a pre-9/11 mentality that the Middle East is no concern to us,” Graham told Fox News. “I hope President Trump’s right. I hope we can turn the fight against ISIS over to Turkey. I hope that Turkey, when they go into Syria, they won’t slaughter the Kurds… If [Trump] follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.”

He claimed that if Trump doesn’t continue with safe zone border patrols, ISIS will fill the void and the fault will lie squarely with the Trump administration.

“I hope that Turkey, when they go into Syria, they won’t slaughter the Kurds…” seems to have been a forlorn hope.

Turkey, Syria, Kurds and Trump threats

The complicated political situation in Syrian is far from over, with Turkey wanting to keep Syrian Kurds away from their border, Trump allowing them to make a move into Syria but warning them not to go too far.

Reuters – U.S. expects Turkey to take over IS fighters if Kurdish militia forced to withdraw: official

The United States expects Turkey to take responsibility of captive Islamic State fighters, a senior State Department official said on Monday, if Ankara’s planned incursion into northeast Syria seizes areas where the detained militants are held.

The official said as of now, U.S. allied Kurdish militia was still going to be in control of the detention facilities. “If they (Turks) come into an area with obvious prisons and the SDF withdraws from those security positions around those prisons, we expect the Turks to take them over,” he said in a briefing.

That sounds a bit vague, and is a mixed signal given a threat from Trump.

Fox News; Trump pulls back troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkish assault, Pentagon officials ‘blindsided’

The White House announced late Sunday that Turkey will soon move forward with a planned military operation in northeast Syria, as U.S. troops who have been deployed and operating with Kurdish-led forces in the area began pulling back from their positions.

The decision sent shockwaves through the region and Washington, with U.S. officials telling Fox News that top Pentagon officials were “completely blindsided” and “shocked” by the order to pull back hundreds of U.S. troops, a move that effectively green-lights the Turkey operation. President Trump spoke with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by telephone.

Some officials see the move as a betrayal of the Kurds, whom the U.S. supported against ISIS for years.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called it an “impulsive decision” by Trump that would undo U.S. gains in the region and give ISIS fighters a “second lease on life.”

Reuters: Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan

President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far even though the U.S. leader himself has opened the door for a Turkish incursion.

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to carry out an incursion against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating next door in Turkey.

The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.

But:

Trump said he would “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered “off-limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull out U.S. forces from northeastern Syria.

Trump’s stern words seemed to be an attempt to placate critics, even from within his own Republican Party, who complain he was abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces.

Trump tweeted:

This doesn’t seem too be a great or wise approach by the vain Trump. Under pressure with a possible impeachment hovering over him in Washington, Trump has been increasingly agitated and shrill, even by his standards.

He sounds to me like an increasingly unhinged megalomaniac, with emphasis on the maniac (or at least manic).

That was before Trump’s threat tweet.

Fox News: Turkey’s Syria incursion may allow ISIS to attempt mass prison break amid US withdrawal, Kurdish fighters warn

ISIS fighters and other terrorists comprising the more than 10,000 Islamic militants jailed in northeast Syria could launch a mass prison break as U.S. troops withdraw from the region in response to Turkey’s impending incursion, Syrian Kurdish fighters warned Monday.

Reuters Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more

A looming Turkish incursion into northern Syria is set to reshape the map of the Syrian conflict once again, dealing a blow to Kurdish-led forces that have battled Islamic State while widening Turkey’s territorial control at the border.

This would be Turkey’s third such incursion since 2016. Motivated largely by the aim of containing Syrian Kurdish power, Turkey already has troops on the ground across an arc of northwestern Syria, the last stronghold of anti-Damascus rebels.

Turkey has two main goals in northeast Syria: to drive the Kurdish YPG militia which it deems a security threat away from its border, and to create a space inside Syria where 2 million Syria refugees currently hosted in Turkey can be settled.

It had been pushing the United States to jointly establish a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into Syrian territory, but repeatedly warned it could take unilateral military action after accusing Washington of dragging its feet.

President Tayyip Erdogan has recently talked about pushing even deeper into Syria, beyond the proposed “safe zone” region to the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, in order to allow still more refugees to return to Syria.

HOW WILL THE KURDS BE AFFECTED?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have spent years expanding its control across northern and eastern Syria, helped by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.

A rare case of a winner in the Syrian war, the Kurds and their allies have set up their own governing bodies while always insisting their aim is autonomy, not independence.

All of this could unravel in the event of a major Turkish invasion that would plunge the area into warfare. The SDF-affiliated Syrian Democratic Council said an attack would trigger a new wave of mass displacement.

DO RUSSIA AND IRAN BACK TURKEY’S MOVE?

Russia and Iran, the other two major foreign powers in Syria, strongly support President Bashar al-Assad – unlike Turkey and the United States which both called for him to stand down and supported rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Russia has said that Turkey has the right to defend itself, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved and that all foreign military forces “with illegal presence” should leave Syria.

So the situation remains quite complex, and not helped with the apparent impetuousness and unpredictability of Trump .

 

 

Trump’s speech to the UN

Donald Trump has championed patriotism and slammed globalism and a number of countries in his speech to the 2019 United Nations General Assembly.

The president’s tone was was described as “steady and somber” (Fox) and “a somber monotone, rarely punctuating words or pausing for emphasis’ (WP) but “his message to world leaders was clear”.

Fox News: Trump slams open-border activists for ‘evil’ agenda, decries Iran ‘bloodlust’ in fiery UN speech

President Trump, in a fiery address Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly, tore into open-border activists for pushing what he described as an “evil” agenda under the “cloak” of social justice, while warning Iran to abandon its confrontational course and delivering arguably his most robust defense yet of his nationalist philosophy.

“Today, I have a message for those open border activists who cloak themselves in the rhetoric of social justice: Your policies are not just, your policies are cruel and evil,” he said, accusing them of promoting human smuggling and the “erasure of national borders.”

“You are empowering criminal organizations that prey on innocent men, women and children. You put your own false sense of virtue before the lives and well-being of countless innocent people. When you undermine border security, you are undermining human rights and human dignity.”

The president’s tone was steady and somber. But the message was that of a muscular nationalism that he has spent the better part of three years defining. As part of his speech, he later ripped into social media giants, media groups and academics — whom he accused of being part of a “permanent political class” that sought to undermine the will of the people.

“Wise leaders always put the good of their own people and their country first. The future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots,” he said earlier in the speech. “The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.”

He advised member states, “If you want freedom, take pride in your country. If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty. If you want peace, love your nation.”

He accused Iran’s leaders of “fueling the tragic wars in both Syria and Yemen,” and of “squandering their nation’s wealth in a fanatical quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.”

Washington Post: Trump condemns globalism, touts nationalistic view of foreign affairs at U.N.

President Trump leveled one of his harshest critiques of globalism on Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly, promoting the “America First” approach that has defined his presidency on issues of defense, trade and immigration before a body built on multilateral cooperation.

Trump read the address in a somber monotone, rarely punctuating words or pausing for emphasis, but his message for the 74th session of the annual gathering of world leaders was clear.

“The future does not belong to globalists,” Trump said. “The future belongs to patriots.”

He argued that a globalist worldview had “exerted a religious pull over past leaders, causing them to ignore their own national interests,” and called on other nations to “embrace its national foundations.”

Trump also emphasized his desire to limit the United States engagement around the world militarily.

“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation,” he said during his 37-minute address. “We desire peace, cooperation, and mutual gain with all. But I will never fail to defend America’s interests.”

He also took a hard line against Iran, arguing that the governing regime was “squandering the nation’s health” and vowed to “stop Iran’s path toward nuclear weapons.”

“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s blood lust. As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened. Iran’s leaders will have turned a proud nation into just another precautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power riches.”

Some mixed messages there, which isn’t unusual with Trump.

Trump highlighted the United States’ “ambitious campaign to reform international trade” and stressed his desire to complete separate bilateral trade agreements with the United Kingdom and Japan.

“For decades, the international trading system has been easily exploited by nations acting in bad faith. As jobs were outsourced, a small handful grew wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Most emblematic of his approach on trade, Trump said, was with China, with which the United States has been embroiled in an escalating trade war.

China, Trump said, has “embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping … and a theft of intellectual property.” Trump called for an overhaul of the World Trade Organization, arguing that China should not be able to “game the system at others’ expense” through it.

Politico: Trump’s full U.N. speech at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly

 

Saudi Arabia, Iran, USA and oil

One of the world’s riskiest situations is developing in one of the most volatile regions of the world, the Middle East, after oil production facilities were bombed by drones. The US has blamed Iran. The US has close ties with Saudi Arabia.

Oil production has been affected, with prices surging following the attack (but settling back a bit since).

MSN: Saudis face lengthy oil halt with few options to fill gap

The oil market is facing a prolonged disruption to Saudi Arabia’s oil production with few options for replacing such huge output losses.

The weekend attacks on the kingdom eliminated about 5% of global oil supply — and raised the risk of more conflict in the region — propelling Brent crude to a record surge on Monday. Officials at state oil company Saudi Aramco have become less optimistic on the pace of output recovery, telling a senior foreign diplomat they face a “severe” disruption measured in weeks and months and informing some customers that October shipments will be delayed.

The historic price gain underscores the unprecedented nature of the disruption caused by the drone attack on the Abqaiq crude processing plant. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been the oil market’s great stabilizer, maintaining a large cushion of spare production capacity that can be tapped in emergencies, such as the 2011 war in Libya.

The halt of 5.7 million barrels day of the kingdom’s production — the worst sudden supply loss in history — exposes the inadequacy of the rest of the world’s supply buffer.

Petrol prices have already risen in New Zealand. I don’t know why that has happened so quickly, petrol in tanks here should be the same price as it was last week. Is there any other market that changes prices based on possible future cost rises?

ABC News:  U.S. intel shows cruise missiles fired at Saudi oil facility came from Iran, officials say

The attack on a major Saudi oil facility originated geographically from Iranian territory, with a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence.

The intelligence assessment draws a more clear link between the attack and Iran, and it could worsen tensions between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. officials are considering possible multilateral sanctions with allies against Iran as part of the response to the attacks…

The Department of Defense has advocated for restraint. But it has provided a briefing on military options to President Donald Trump, who over the weekend tweeted that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to respond, once it officially determined who was behind the attack.

Three U.S. officials previously told NBC News there was extremely compelling evidence showing the origination point of the strikes, and one official with direct knowledge described that evidence as imagery.

That’s image based imagery, not imaginary.

A Saudi military spokesman says initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used in the attack.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday no talks would take place between Iran and the U.S. “on any level…

Reuters: U.S. lawmakers blast Iran, wary of war, after Saudi oil attack

Members of the U.S. Congress blasted Iran after the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but expressed wariness about U.S. military action, especially before they have a clearer picture of who was behind it.

President Donald Trump said the United States was “locked and loaded” to hit back after Saturday’s attack, which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and damaged the world’s biggest crude processing plant.

Iran denied U.S. accusations it was to blame and said it was ready for “full-fledged war.”

U.S. lawmakers, especially Trump’s fellow Republicans, were quick to blame Tehran.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, called it “a brazen attack” with significant implications for the global energy market and said he welcomed Trump’s preparation to potentially release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stabilize markets if necessary.

Many lawmakers stressed that Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war and warned against any quick military action.

Trump may not be able to initiate quick military action on his own, but he is capable of escalating tensions and the prospects of war via Twitter.

Military action would likely put oil production and supply at even more risk.

Congress, with backing from both Republicans and Democrats, has passed – but Trump has vetoed – four bills seeking to push back against Trump’s strong support for the Saudi government, despite its human rights record and steep civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

Trump and the US say nothing against Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni war – and supply the Saudis with arms.

Wikipedia:  2017 United States–Saudi Arabia arms deal

On May 20, 2017, U.S. President Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling US$110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years. The intended purchases include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, as well as radar, communications and cybersecurity technology. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region and a “significant” and “historic” expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia was the destination for nearly 10% of all U.S. arms exports

The 2017 deal was partially created with the help of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of and senior advisor to President Trump

So the attack on the Saudi oil production facilities raises tensions significantly between the US and Iran. The risks may temper responses, but I think it likely that there will be some sort of retaliation.  Economic sanctions are already in place against Iran, so that must be a limited option. If Iran is indeed responsible for the attack it may in part be an attempt to enhance the value of their own oil to compensate for sanctions.

Whatever, it’s complex and it’s a high risk game being played in the Middle East that could significantly impact on the world.

 

 

The Great Hack – democracy at risk of serious damage

If you value information privacy, online integrity and democratic processes, and you have access to Netflix, then I recommend you watch The Great Hack.

It is a documentary movie that shows how the acquisition of online data, in particular from Facebook, has been used to manipulate opinions and elections. The now bankrupt UK based company Cambridge Analytica is one of the main focuses, with close links to the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and the Donald Trump nomination and election as US president. Russian influence in elections is also a part of the story.

 

From a review by Odie Henderson (robertebert.com):

“The Great Hack” concerns itself with the United States Presidential election of 2016 and, to a lesser extent, the Brexit vote and other international political campaigns. The common factor in all these events is a now-defunct firm called Cambridge Analytica, represented throughout the film by several former employees. At the height of its powers, the company held up to 5,000 data points about each of the people contained in its databases.

This information was used for a variety of purposes meant to manipulate a certain cross-section of people. The master manipulators didn’t go after people whose minds had been made up; they went after on-the-fence folks referred to as “the persuadables.” Using the collected data, Cambridge Analytica set out to create fear and/or apathy to achieve the results of the political parties that hired them. Carroll’s lawsuit is an attempt to retrieve the data collected on him.

And how did the thousands of points of data wind up in those databases? Well, you willingly gave it to them, dear readers. Remember those seemingly innocent Facebook quizzes that you took to determine what Disney villain you were, or whether you were an introvert or any other goofy question you couldn’t wait to have answered so you could share it with friends online? Those little diversions asked specific questions that were used to harvest data.

Based on this and other information gleaned from Facebook posts and the friends with whom you associated on that platform, the data analysis tools used artificial intelligence and evaluations to create a startlingly accurate profile of you. Carroll asks his class if they ever think their phone is listening in on them because the ads they see seem perfectly tailored for them. Everyone says yes. Carroll tells them that this manufactured profile is why.

This is sure to be a controversial documentary, not just because it sees Brexit and the GOP Presidential campaign involvement with Cambridge Analytica as a sinister, almost military-grade level of psychological warfare against an unsuspecting public, but because it also highlights how large groups of people can easily be led to vote against their own interests.

There’s a too-brief section focusing on the “Do So” campaign in Trinidad and Tobago, where social media was flooded with catchy graphics and slogans designed to foster apathy in folks who would vote for the side not allegedly in cahoots with Cambridge. The Do So campaign made it seem cool not to vote at all, so many young people did not. As with the American campaign, the bombardment of ads and demonizing and false news stories was relentless.

The movie named a number of countries in which similar Cambridge Analytica had experimented, and also showed a map of the spread around the world. New Zealand appears to have avoided being targeted – so far. But I think that it’s likely that similar targeted ‘psychological warfare’ is likely to be tried here, if it hasn’t been already.

Breitbart News is also connected in The Great Hack.  Here in New Zealand the now far right Whale Oil website has championed Breitbart and modeled themselves on them, including the use of ‘fake news’ targeting political and ethnic/religious groups. ‘Whaleoil staff’ put up such a post yesterday.

Some of those who like the result of the Brexit referendum and the last US presidential election may see no problem here, but unless solutions are found then democracy around the world may well be heading for destruction.

Indeed, that is the aim of some of those who are trying to manipulate minds online, and swing elections – they believe that a breakdown of the current political systems is necessary to impose their own power structures on countries.

One thing in our  favour here may be that New Zealand has been relatively insignificant in the  the whole scheme of world politics and power.

But – if the international populism of Jacinda Ardern is seen as a threat to those using online data and online forums to brainwash people who are susceptible to being influenced then I don’t think we can rule out significant foreign interference in a future election here.

Fortunately the firearms reforms here have had near unanimous support in Parliament, with no time for major interference from abroad, although the US NRA has been linked to some attempts to swing opinion here in support of unfettered access to weapons.

But upcoming referendums on cannabis law reform, and possibly in euthanasia could be at risk. The debates on these issues have already been subject to false claims and distortions by some groups intent on imposing their views on the wider population.

Democracy is at risk of serious damage, due to the quest for profits by huge online media companies, and the harvesting and use of private data in a new and insidious form of propaganda by interest groups and countries,

Our democracy has not been perfect, but it has been better than most if not all alternatives. It is at real risk of being munted by international money makers and power seekers.

Trump preparing for re-election campaign launch

Donald Trump is set to officially launch his re-election campaign next Tuesday – well over a year before the election in November 2020 but this is the US – although he has run campaign style public events for some time, including this week.

It’s hard to know whether this was deliberate or ignorant, or whether it will help or hurt his re-election chances – Trump: I Would Accept Information On My Opponent From Foreign Governments, “It’s Called Oppo Research”

President Donald Trump said he would accept information from a foreign government or foreign nationals that would help him in the 2020 presidential election and not notify the FBI in an Oval Office interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Your son, Don Jr., is up before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. And again, he was not charged with anything. In retrospect though-

PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: By the way, not only wasn’t he charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go too jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn’t even say, they hardly even talked about him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?

TRUMP: OK. Let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think-

STEPHANOPOULOS: If it’s coming from Russia, you do.

TRUMP: I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do-

STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.

TRUMP: Well, that’s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn’t a stolen- This is somebody that said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that’s what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t- There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — “We have information on your opponent.” Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.

A country like Norway is unlikely to try to interfere in a US election by helping one candidate with dirt on their opponent.

I doubt that China would try to help trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. “Oh, let’s call the FBI.” The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

So collusion is now renamed ‘oppo research’.

Axios: Trump’s re-election crisis

The state of play: His internal polls show it, national polls show it and even a poll in reliably conservative Texas shows it — all as Trump should be crushing it. Unemployment is at a near-historic low. The economy is growing. Peace and prosperity abound. But his numbers are sagging.

The warning signs:

  • The N.Y. Times reported“After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win. … Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well.”
  • National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes that Trump is “in the weakest political shape of any sitting president since George H.W Bush”: “Trump hits 50 percent disapproval … in North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Iowa — all states he carried in 2016.”
  • Pay little attention to national polls in a race where states are what matters. But as a sign of voter mood, six Democrats (Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg and Booker) each beat Trump in the first 2o2o Quinnipiac University National Poll, released yesterday.

The other side … A Trump ally familiar with the campaign’s strategy said: “Trump has always under-polled. Until it’s actually a binary contest, though, these polls really don’t matter.”

  • “Educating voters on what Green New Deal and Medicare for All actually mean = an absolute disaster for Democrats.”
  • “When Trump gets a shot at defining someone one-on-one, they’re no longer going to be what they are now, which is for the most part a ‘generic Democrat.'”
  • “Historical data says that with the economy roaring like it is, the incumbent always wins.”

Be smart: Trump is betting polls will swing when it’s a choice between him and someone he can lampoon as a dumb socialist.

  • But, but, but: Even the self-avowed socialists are beating him — Bernie Sanders is up 12 in Michigan.

The bottom line: The 2018 elections were a wake-up call for Trump. Democrats had record turnout; his Midwest presidency-makers of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania reverted to their Democratic form; and conservative states, including Texas, showed the demographic dangers for the GOP.

Some will say that Trump defied and confounded the polls and pundits last tome and could do so again. He could do so.

But it will be different this time. Voters won’t be judging trump on his potential, they will be judging him on his actual performance this term. Some say he has been the best president since 1776 and that Trump’s declaration of his greatness is more historic than the Declaration of Independence, and others see him as a self obsessed narcissist boorish overrated buffoon.

Still, there’s a lot that can happen. The US economy is strong but if that trips up between now and the election it may work against Trump. Any number of international crises could strike.

And a key factor will be who the Democrats choose to stand. They stuffed up last time with Hillary Clinton. Picking someone who is leader-like and credible would be a good contrast to Trump and a good start. Trump is certain to ridicule and name call, but the novelty factor of his derogatory lying attack modus operandi has long worn off.

It will be a long campaign as usual, and could be ugly.