USA: the “flood the zone with shit” media strategy

Vox): “Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely thata majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances.There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

I call this “manufactured” because it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.

Copying a Putin example, the  Muddier in Chief:

Trump can dictate an entire news cycle with a few unhinged tweets or an absurd press conference. The media cycle is easily commandeered by misinformation, innuendo, and outrageous content. These are problems because of the norms that govern journalism and because the political economy of media makes it very hard to ignore or dispel bullshit stories.This is at the root of our nihilism problem, and a solution is nowhere in sight.

The instinct of the mainstream press has always been to conquer lies by exposing them. But it’s just not that simple anymore (if it ever was). There are too many claims to debunk and too many conflicting narratives. And the decision to cover something is a decision to amplify it and, in some cases, normalize it.

Bullshit rules, and there are no obvious solutions.

We probably need a paradigm shift in how the press covers politics. Nearly all of the incentives driving media militate against this kind of rethinking, however. And so we’re likely stuck with this problem for a very long time.

It is not as bad here in New Zealand, but it’s bad enough.

We can join the shit fights, or tune out as many people mostly do (but still get impressions from the mire).

It happens here on small scales in social media, Kiwiblog being a prime example but also here (from cross the political spectrum).

Not usually a “flood the zone with shit”, but diversions from unwelcome news are common in politics here, with Winston Peters a practiced hand, and his apprentice was at it yesterday – Shane Jones diverts to copious meat eating as further questions raised about company links.

A difficult question that I often ponder is whether to challenge the shit (with a risk of amplifying it), or ignoring it and letting the shit flooders to muddy the zone unabated. There’s no obvious or easy answers.

In some ways Jacinda Ardern introduced a fresh breath of political air, but even that has been muddied somewhat with her and her Government too often failing to come close to one of their promises of more openness and transparency. Trying to sweep shit under the carpet is a related problem.

We could all do better – but is there a will, or does trying to win and trying to make losers out of opponents and people with different opinions rule?

US-Chinese trade deal (Phase 1)

A three year trade war between the US and China, initiated by Donald Trump, created disruptions and uncertainties around the world, and cost the US billions of dollars, ‘phase 1’ of an agreement has been signed.

It’s hard to know whether the gains have been worth the pains.

Fox News:  US, China sign historic phase one trade deal

President Trump signed a landmark trade agreement with China, heralding a period of detente in a trade war between the world’s two largest economies fueled by decades of complaints that Beijing was manipulating its currency and stealing trade secrets from American firms.

The pact, detailed in a 94-page document, is only the initial phase of a broader deal that Trump has said may come in as many as three sections.

During two years of negotiation, there were occasional setbacks because “on some issues, we don’t see eye to eye,” noted Liu He, the Chinese vice premier who represented President Xi Jinping at the signing, but “our economic teams didn’t give up.”

The document specifies that both China and the U.S. “shall ensure fair and equitable market access” for businesses that depend on the safety of trade secrets. Specific measures that will protect pharmaceutical firms’ intellectual property, govern patents, block counterfeiting on e-commerce platforms and prevent exports of brand-name knockoffs are detailed.

The agreement, which was first reported on Dec. 12, includes commitments from Beijing to halt intellectual property theft, refrain from currency manipulation, cooperate in financial services and purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. products over the next two years.

The purchases will include up to $50 billion of U.S. agriculture, according to Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, $40 billion of which has been confirmed by Chinese sources. China will also buy $40 billion in services, $50 billion in energy and $75 billion to $80 billion worth of manufacturing, the sources said.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Winners and losers

Winner: Donald Trump

Some critics say there is little substance, but the signing offers an opportunity for US President Donald Trump to put the trade war behind him and claim an achievement heading into the 2020 presidential election.

Winner: President Xi Jinping

China appears set to emerge from the signing having agreed to terms it offered early in the process, including loosening market access to US financial and car firms. In many cases, companies from other countries are already benefiting from the changes.

Winners: Taiwan/Vietnam/Mexico

Globally, economists estimate that the trade war will shave more than 0.5% off of growth. But some countries have benefited from the fight, which redirected an estimated $165bn in trade.

Analysts at Nomura identified Vietnam as the country that would gain the most, while the UN found that Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam saw US orders ramp up last year.

Loser: American companies and consumers

The new deal halves tariff rates on $120bn worth of goods, but most of the higher duties – which affect another $360bn of Chinese goods and more than $100bn worth of US exports – remain in place. And that’s bad news for the American public.

Economists have found that the costs – more than $40bn so far – are being borne entirely by US companies and consumers. And that figure does not even try to measure lost business due to retaliation.

Loser: Farmers and manufacturers

The new deal commits China to boost purchases in manufacturing, services, agriculture and energy from 2017 levels by $200bn over two years.

Mr Trump has said that could include as $50bn worth of agricultural goods a year.

But the official figures are lower, analysts are sceptical those are attainable and China has said the purchases will depend on market demand. So far, the primary effect on business has been pain.

Farmers, who have been targeted by China’s tariffs, have seen bankruptcies soar, prompting a $28bn federal bailout.

Among manufacturers, the Federal Reserve has found employment losses, stemming from the higher import costs and China’s retaliation.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Five things that aren’t in it

The US and China have finally – after almost two years of hostilities – signed a “phase one” deal. But it only covers the easier aspects of their difficult relationship, and only removes some of the tariffs.

The biggest hurdles are still to come, and could stand in the way of a second phase agreement – one that would in theory remove all of the tariffs, bringing some much needed relief for the global economy, which is in the interests of all of us.

So what didn’t make it into the agreement?

1. Industrial subsidies and ‘Made in China 2025’

The deal doesn’t address Beijing’s ambitious ‘Made in China 2025’ programme, which is designed to help Chinese companies excel and become world-class leaders in emerging technologies. It also doesn’t address the subsidies that China gives its state-owned enterprises, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group.

2. Huawei

The trade deal won’t reduce US pressure on Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that has been caught in the crossfire of the trade war, with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying the company isn’t a “chess piece” in the negotiations.

3. Access for foreign financial services firms

While the agreement does talk about opening up market access for financial services firms, some analysts have said it doesn’t go far enough to ensure they have equal market access.

4. Enforcement and interpretation

The deal has a dispute resolution mechanism in place, which basically requires China – once a complaint has been made – to begin consultations with the US, with the onus on Beijing to resolve it.

But what the deal leaves out is “how the US is going to monitor enforcement,” says Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute.

5. Further reductions in tariffs

The deal doesn’t include a definitive timeline on when the tariffs that are still in place will go down.

According to research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, average tariffs on both sides are still up about 20% from pre-trade war levels – six times higher than when the dispute began. That means companies and consumers are still paying more.

So a lot of the pain remains.

Also from BBC:

Bloomberg/Japan Times (opinion): Round one to Trump in U.S.-China trade war

It is too early to give a final assessment of the U.S.-China trade deal, the details of which have just been published, but it’s not too soon for a provisional opinion: China is badly shaken, and American credibility has been greatly enhanced.

In general, I am suspicious of detailed agreements when one of the parties claims the other does not respect the terms of their deals, as the United States does with China. If the U.S. holds up its end of the bargain and China doesn’t, you have to wonder what all the trouble was about.

So what about the potential benefits for the U.S.? Most of them concern credibility.

The U.S. has established its seriousness as a counterweight to China, something lacking since it largely overlooked China’s various territorial encroachments in the 2010s. Whether in economics or foreign policy, China now can expect the U.S. to push back — a very different calculus. At a time when there is tension in North Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, that is potentially a significant gain.

Credibility is difficult to measure, as is the political effects of of trade issues.

The U.S. still is keeping $360 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, hardly a propitious sign that China made a great bargain. There is even speculation that China will not report the full deal to its citizens.

That isn’t a great bargain for American businesses and consumers who have to pay the tariffs.

It is too soon to judge the current trade deal a success from an American point of view. Nevertheless, its potential benefits remain underappreciated, and there is a good chance they will pay off.

Some of the agreement will no doubt be beneficial to the US, but there’s definite downsides as well.

Politico (opinion): The U.S.-China Trade Deal Was Not Even a Modest Win

It’s generous to even call it a deal.

The deal simply restores the U.S.-China relationship to where it was pre-President Donald Trump, declares victory in areas that don’t matter as much as they did and has cost the U.S. billions in the meantime.

The A1 article in the Wall Street Journal was measured but said that the deal “contains wins for the U.S.” The New Yorker dubbed the deal “an uneasy truce.” On CNBC, the garrulous Jim Cramer heralded it as a win for Trump and America, saying “tariffs worked.” In general, while few outside the White House saw the agreement as transformative, the reception to it has been amicably positive, if only because it appears to arrest the destructive slide to more and more confrontation, higher tariffs and greater disruption and uncertainty.

Halting the onward march toward an all-out economic Cold War with China is a good thing. But given that the march began with impulse and barely any strategy on the part of the Trump administration and given as well that an even better pseudo-deal, with more agricultural purchases, could have been struck this spring without more escalation of tariffs, the agreement inked this week should be seen as an almost complete failure.

Here’s why. When Trump became president, he immediately latched onto the trade deficit in goods, which showed the United States importing hundreds of billions more goods than it exported to China. Many also assailed China for years of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers and for restricting market access to U.S. financial companies. Those issues were at the heart of the decision to begin using tariffs to coerce China into changing its behavior.

At best, the Phase I agreement modestly revises the status quo before Trump came into office.

At a substantial cost in the meantime.

Politically much will depend on whether Trump can get any voters who aren’t already supporters to buy his “momentous” and “remarkable” and “righting the wrongs of the past” sales pitch.

The reality seems to be that this steadies things back to approximately where they were, with the addition of substantial new tariffs remaining in place. Success or otherwise is likely to be determined in the future, by what both the US and China actually do, and what they agree on in future phases of trade agreements.

 

Trump impeachment trial begins

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began in the Senate on Thursday (US time).

The lead up to this has been highly partisan, with Democrats promoting the trial and Republicans publicly judging in advance – with a majority they seem likely to acquit the president.

Before the trial began McConnell makes case for Trump acquittal ahead of trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday ripped House Democrats and made the case for the upper chamber acquitting President Trump as he waits for the articles of impeachment to be transmitted.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, did not directly call for senators to vote to acquit Trump but argued that senators cannot follow the House’s lead and agree that the president deserves to be impeached and ultimately removed from office.

“Speaker Pelosi and the House have taken our nation down a dangerous road.

Others claim that Trump is leading the US down a dangerous road.

If the Senate blesses this unprecedented and dangerous House process by agreeing that an incomplete case and subjective basis are enough to impeach a president, we will almost guarantee the impeachment of every future president,” McConnell said.

Meanwhile more has been happening – White House hold on Ukraine aid violated federal law, congressional watchdog says

The White House violated federal law in its hold on security aid to Ukraine last year, according to a decision by a congressional watchdog released on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to Congress, found the Trump administration violated a law that governs how the White House disburses money approved by Congress.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision states. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

Not surprisingly:

The White House quickly rebutted the charge, criticizing the agency’s decision as an “overreach” and an attempt to insert itself into the “media’s controversy of the day.”

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel. “OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law.”

Lev Parnas: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night the president was fully aware of what he and associate Igor Fruman were doing in Ukraine. Parnas made the comments during an interview with Rachel Maddow, in which he also leveled allegations against Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

He also stated that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “He lied,” Parnas said.

In the interview, Parnas alleged that he was given specific instructions by Giuliani to inform Ukrainian government officials that the United States would withhold aid unless the Ukrainian government announced it was opening an investigation into the the Bidens.

“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas said. He also claimed that Giuliani told Ukrainian officials that Parnas was there as a representative of both himself and Mr. Trump, and that Ukrainian officials understood he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Giuliani denied that claim while the interview was airing.

Parnas and Fruman are accused of helping Giuliani in his attempts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Fruman, originally from Belarus, were arrested on campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport in October.

Ukraine has announced a criminal investigation – but not into Joe Biden: Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

As part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s allies were trying to have Ms. Yovanovitch, who was seen as an impediment, removed from her post. Mr. Trump recalled her last spring.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” one message from Mr. Hyde read.

Mr. Parnas said in a televised interview on Wednesday that he had not taken Mr. Hyde’s offer seriously.

Mr. Hyde told the Sinclair Broadcasting host Eric Bolling in a television interview on Wednesday that he was “absolutely not” monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. He said he was under the influence of alcohol when he sent his messages to Mr. Parnas.

“It was just colorful, we were playing — I thought we were playing,” Mr. Hyde said.

An odd sort of thing to be ‘playing’ about.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released on Thursday that the country “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings,” the statement read.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

There may have been a lot of bravado and fake conversation going on, but the holding back of aid wasn’t fake.

It’s hard to see anything good or definitive coming out of the trial. Both sides will probably try to claim some sort of victory.

US claims Iranian missile accidentally downed Ukrainian jet

According to the US it wasn’t an unfortunate coincidence that a jet crashed in Iran just after a missile attack on US bases in Iraq. They claim a Iranian missile accidentally brought the Ukrainian plane down, killing 176 people.

But a news post making the claim may have been taken down.

RNZ:  Iran ‘mistakenly shot down Ukraine jet’ – US media

US officials say they believe the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was hit by a missile, CBS says.

Ukraine earlier said it was examining whether a missile strike brought down the aircraft – but Iran ruled this out.

The crash came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two airbases housing US forces in Iraq.

CBS News quoting US intelligence said a satellite detected infrared “blips” of two missile launches, followed by another blip of an explosion.

More to come…

CBS News – Special Report: U.S. officials believe Iran shot down Ukrainian passenger jet

The page cannot be found

The page may have been removed, had its name changed, or is just temporarily unavailable.

More will no doubt be reported during our day.

If the report is accurate (it sounds feasible) it demonstrates that in war zones accidental and civilian deaths are unfortunately a real risk. I think that flying anywhere near Iran or Iraq is best avoided, especially right now.

Meanwhile U.S., Iran ease conflict fears but threats keep crisis rolling

Iran spurned the U.S. president’s call for a new nuclear pact and its commanders threatened more attacks as the Middle East remained on edge following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and Tehran’s retaliatory missile strikes.

Concern the war-scarred region was primed for a wider conflict eased after U.S President Donald Trump refrained from ordering more military action and Iran’s foreign minister diplomat said missile strikes “concluded” Tehran’s response.

But each side’s next move in their protracted shadow war was uncertain. Iranian generals resumed their habitual barrage of warnings to Washington and Trump said new sanctions were being imposed, as his Democratic rivals criticized his handling of the crisis.

Also:

  • Trump says he has approved increased U.S. sanctions on Iran
    “It’s already been done. We’ve increased them. They were very severe, but now it’s increased substantially,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I just approved it a little while ago with Treasury.

  • Pelosi does not believe Soleimani strike made the U.S. safer
    “I do not believe in terms of what is in the public domain that they have made the country safer by what they did,” she said at her weekly news conference, hours before the House is due to vote on a war powers resolution intended to prevent Trump from waging war against Iran without congressional approval.

 

US versus Iran continues

Donald trump may be trying to defuse the escalating situation between the US and Iran in Iraq.

Reuters: Trump says U.S. does not have to use military against Iran

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States did not necessarily have to use its military power against Iran, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis over the American killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

The crash of a Ukranian airliner in Iran has added to the tensions.

No survivors after Ukrainian Boeing plane with 176 aboard crashes in Iran

A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board.

Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

It was the Kiev-based carrier’s first fatal crash, and it said it was doing everything possible to establish the cause.

Ukraine will send a team of experts to Iran later on Wednesday to investigate the crash, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in the Ukrainian capital.

“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” he said.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev whether the plane could have been hit by a missile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

Safety experts say airliner accidents rarely have a single cause and that it typically takes months of investigation to understand all the factors behind them.

In Paris, the maker of the plane’s engines, French-U.S. firm CFM – co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran – said speculation regarding the cause was premature.

U.S. calls for complete cooperation with any probe into cause of Iran crash

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran.

In a statement, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.

The plane crashed hours after Iran launched missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, and officials have cautioned that speculation about what happened was premature.

There have been wider effects of the tot for tat attacks.

Airlines re-route or cancel flights around Iraq, Iran after missile strike on U.S. troops

Major airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights on Wednesday and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace, following an Iranian missile strike on United States-led forces in Iraq.

On the Iranian missile attacks:

Trump says no U.S. casualties, Iran appears to be standing down

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday there were no American casualties in the Iranian strikes on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and that Tehran appeared to be standing down.

“No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” Trump said in a White House address. “Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down.”

Iran believed to have deliberately missed U.S. forces in Iraq strikes: sources

Iran is believed to have deliberately avoided U.S. military casualties during retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, according to U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments.

USA Today: US knew Iranian missiles were coming ahead of strike

The U.S. military had advance warning of Iran’s missile assault on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces, attacks that prompted new economic sanctions Wednesday from President Donald Trump.

The missiles targeted al Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and another base in Erbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The extent of damage to the bases was not immediately clear, but early-warning defense systems gave U.S. forces advance knowledge that missiles had been launched, according to a U.S. official speaking to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.

The advance warning explains no casualties. I would expect the US to be monitoring and detecting missiles, but they can’t have known in advance what the exact targets would be.

CNN, citing an Arab diplomatic source, reported that Iran notified Iraq in advance and that Iraqi officials then tipped U.S. troops before the attack began. A U.S. defense official also told CNN that Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.

The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they also received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.

It sounds like it was a symbolic counter attack.

Trump has given a national address on the situation. Highlights from Reuters: Trump addresses Iran situation

ATTACK ON MILITARY BASES

“I’m pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.

“Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

U.S. STRENGTH

“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles. The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

SANCTIONS

“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”

There have been US imposed sanctions on Iran for years.

CREATING A NEW IRAN DEAL

“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

Trying appeasement after assassinating a foreign leader in another country.

Wanting to scrap one deal and make another deal is typical Trump.

Iraq wants to expel US troops

US troops were allowed into Iraq four years ago in an agreement to help fight against the ‘Islamic State’. The Iraqi government now wants to expel the troops after the US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – but remarkably, under the agreement they are required to give one year notice.

There are fears that there will be a resurgence of ISIS if the US leaves Iraq, and that Iran will increase it’s influence in Iraq.

More of an immediate concern is that both the US and Iran have threatened each other of further aggression over the ‘act of war’ committed by the US.

Stuff (AAP): Iraq’s Parliament calls for expulsion of US troops

Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of US troops from the country Sunday (Monday NZT) in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general, raising the prospect of a withdrawal that could allow a resurgence by Islamic State extremists.

Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government. Even then, cancelling the US-Iraq agreement requires giving the Americans a one-year notice for withdrawal.

Amid Iran’s threats of vengeance, the US-led military coalition in Iraq announced Sunday it is putting the fight against Islamic State militants on hold to focus on protecting its troops and bases.

A pullout of the estimated 5200 US troops could cripple the fight against Isis and allow it to make a comeback. It could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is “a bit concerning”.

“The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq’s political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran,” he said.

“The killing of Soleimani was a political assassination,” outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told Parliament, adding that the Iranian general was scheduled to meet him the next morning about relations with Saudi Arabia.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia and provided them with arms. It is a complex situation in the Middle East.

 

  • President Trump Says 52 Targets Already Lined Up If Iran Retaliates AP News

    President Donald Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

    The series of tweets came as the White House sent to Congress a formal notification under the War Powers Act of the drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a senior administration official said. U.S. law required notification within 48 hours of the introduction of American forces into an armed conflict or a situation that could lead to war.

  • Iran Official: ‘The Response for a Military Action Is Military Action USA Today

    Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday “the response for a military action is military action,” as fears grew that a U.S. airstrike that killed the head of Tehran’s elite Quds force and mastermind of its security and intelligence strategy will draw Washington and the Middle East region into a broader military conflict.

    Iran has already vowed an unspecified harsh retaliation for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani near the Iraqi capital’s international airport on Thursday. President Donald Trump said he ordered the strike to prevent a conflict with Iran because Soleimani was plotting attacks that endangered American troops and officials.

    No evidence was provided.

  • No, Attacking Iran Won’t Help Trump Get Reelected Jonathan Chait, NY Magazine

    Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

    Trump’s allies have framed the issue as being about Qasem Soleimani’s moral culpability, or Iran’s responsibility for escalating the conflict. And it is certainly true that Iran is a nasty, aggressive, murderous regime. But none of this refutes the fact that Trump’s Iran policy is failing on its own terms. Having violated a diplomatic agreement on the premise that doing so would not lead to war, they are now blaming Iran for the war they insisted would never happen.

  • The Soleimani Strike Defied the U.S. Constitution Oona Hathaway, The Atlantic

    The drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, raises many legal issues, but one of the most significant—at least to the American constitutional order—is that President Donald Trump ordered the strike without so much as informing Democratic leadership in Congress, disregarding Congress’s essential role in initiating war. If Congress fails to respond effectively, the constitutional order will be broken beyond repair, and the president will be left with the unmitigated power to take the country to war on his own—anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

  • Iran, Not the U.S., Is in a Dilemma Victor Davis Hanson, National Review
    For all the current furor over the death of Qasem Soleimani, it is Iran, not the U.S. and the Trump administration, that is in a dilemma. Given the death and destruction wrought by Soleimani, and his agendas to come, he will not be missed.

    Tehran has misjudged the U.S. administration’s doctrine of strategic realism rather than vice versa. The theocracy apparently calculated that prior U.S. patience and restraint in the face of its aggression was proof of an unwillingness or inability to respond. More likely, the administration was earlier prepping for a possible more dramatic, deadly, and politically justifiable response when and if Iran soon overreached.

It seems rather simplistic and naive to think that the current situation doesn’t pose problems if not a dilemma for the US. Iran will have known that ongoing provocations would eventually result in a reaction from the US, and that was more likely in the US election year.

 

Trump via Twitter:

Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.

He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years.

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

I think the only certainty in this situation is that this isn’t the end of USA versus Iran, nor the problems in the Middle East.

Most admired in the US – Trumps and Obamas

Gallup does an annual poll on the most admired people in the US. The Obamas and the Trumps come out on top again – Obama, Trump Tie as Most Admired Man in 2019

Most admired woman:

  1. Michelle Obama 10%
  2. Melania Trump 5%
  3. Oprah Winfrey 3%
  4. Hillary Clinton 3%
  5. Greta Thunberg 3%
  6. Queen Elizabeth 2%
  7. Nancy Pelosi 2%
  8. Ruth Bader Ginsburg 2%
  9. Elizabeth Warren 1%
  10. Angela Merkel 1%
    Nikki Halley 1%

Clinton was ‘most admired’ woman from 2002-2017. Obama has been most admired for the last two years.

Most admired man:

  1. Barack Obama 18%
  2. Donald Trump 18%
  3. Jimmy Carter 2%
    Eion Musk 2%

Bernie Sanders is 7th, Adam Schiff is 8th. Joe Biden as barely featured.

 

View complete question responses and trends.

Trump impeachment ‘trial’ under way in US

Donald Trump calls it a witch hunt, and the vote is likely to be highly political , but the impeachment trial is under way in the US.

Stuff is covering it ‘live’ – President Donald Trump impeachment: Watch historic vote live

Democrats are set to impeach US President Donald Trump when they bring abuse and obstruction charges against him to a full House vote.

That could take place by early Wednesday evening US time – Thursday lunchtime, New Zealand time –  making the 45th president only the third commander in chief to face that penalty.

But first, watch for a daylong showdown that’s been boiling for years between Republicans loyal to Trump and Democrats who say his conduct toward Ukraine makes him unfit for office. Look, too, for legacy moments for Washington’s political veterans on the eve of the 2020 election year.

Expect most Democrats to vote for impeachment, and all Republicans to vote against it.

A tally compiled by The Associated Press found that a majority of House members have said they will vote to approve the charges and send them to the Senate for a trial next month.

The Republican-led Senate is not expected to convict and remove Trump from office.

This may be more political circus than justice but it is newsworthy that a US president is being impeached, it doesn’t happen often.

Impeachment is supposed to be a means of holding the president and the highest political office in the Us to account for abuses of power.

Stuff:  Donald Trump blasts Nancy Pelosi in scathing letter, labels impeachment a war on democracy

US media is as divided as it’s politics.

CNN:

Fox News:

Two articles of impeachment against Trump

RNZ (BBC) – Trump impeachment: Democrats unveil formal charges

The Democratic-controlled US House Judiciary Committee has unveiled charges against President Donald Trump, a key move in impeaching him.

The first article revealed by committee chief Jerry Nadler accuses Mr Trump of abuse of power and the second accuses him of obstructing Congress.

He is alleged to have committed “high crimes and misdemeanours” (a phrase from the US Constitution) on two counts, outlined by Mr Nadler:

  • The first allegation is that he exercised the powers of his public office to “obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest”, by allegedly pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election
  • The second allegation is that “when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry…”, thereby obstructing Congress

The charges are set out in detail in a Judiciary Committee document.

Mr Trump “sees himself as above the law”, Mr Nadler said. “We must be clear, no-one, not even the president, is above the law.”

In the July phone call to Ukraine’s leader, Mr Trump appeared to tie US military assistance for Ukraine to its launching of investigations that could help him politically.

In return for those investigations, Democrats say Mr Trump offered two bargaining chips – $400m of military aid that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Democrats say this pressure on a vulnerable US ally constitutes an abuse of power.

The first investigation Mr Trump wanted from Ukraine was into former Vice-President Joe Biden, his main Democratic challenger, and his son Hunter. Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was President Barack Obama’s deputy.

The second Trump demand was that Ukraine should try to corroborate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the last US presidential election. This theory has been widely debunked, and US intelligence agencies are unanimous in saying Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016.

Impeachment has to be passed by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, and then would go to a trial before the Republican controlled Senate where a conviction would require a two thirds majority. Of course it is highly political.

And of course Trump denies he did anything wrong and again claims to be the subject of a ‘witch hunt’.

But his claims mean little. He has a habit of public denial and trying to portray himself as a victim, which is lapped up by supporters.

And he also has an extensive record of attacking anyone who does anything he doesn’t like.

And he tries to turn the accusations on his accusers. This is standard Trump strategy. His protestations and attacks are meaningless as far as the impeachment process goes, it is just playing to his base who will likely largely lap up his rhetoric and bull.

Meanwhile, this article details the history and the involvement of someone closely involved in all of this – The Indispensable Man: How Giuliani Led Trump to the Brink of Impeachment

Step by step, he has escorted President Trump to the brink of impeachment. Mr. Giuliani himself is now under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in the very office where he enjoyed his first extended draughts of fame nearly four decades ago. The separate troubles he has gotten his client and himself into are products of the uniquely powerful position he has fashioned, a hybrid of unpaid personal counsel to the president and for-profit peddler of access and advice.

Practically no name, other than Mr. Trump’s, was mentioned more than Mr. Giuliani’s at the impeachment hearings and in a subsequent Democratic report that described him as the hub of a grievous abuse of presidential power (or legitimate advocate for Mr. Trump, in the Republicans’ minority response).

Mr. Giuliani has been the voice in Mr. Trump’s ear when others could not be heard, and served as the voice of Mr. Trump in places where presidents dare not go.

Each modern impeachment saga — of Richard M. Nixon, Bill Clinton and now Mr. Trump — has been shaped not by grievances over policy differences, but by human vanities and appetites. In this case, those include Mr. Giuliani’s, which have run in strong currents for decades, unconcealed.

An ironic story from Giuliani’s past:

Years before, he had shown that working with virtually nothing, he could cultivate the mere existence of investigations to his political benefit.

Early in his first term as mayor, facing criticism over patronage hires, Mr. Giuliani and aides announced spectacular claims that a widely respected commissioner in the previous administration, Richard Murphy, had overspent his budget by millions of dollars for political reasons. Moreover, computer records seemed to have been destroyed in a suspicious burglary. The heat shifted from the reality of Mr. Giuliani’s patronage hires to the wispy vapors of the Murphy investigation.

A year later, it emerged that Mr. Murphy had neither overspent nor done anything wrong, and that no records had been destroyed or stolen. Mayor Giuliani shrugged.

“This happens all the time,” he said. “And you write about those things all the time. Sometimes they turn out to be true. And sometimes they turn out to be wrong.”

Maybe the impeachment charges turn out to be true, Maybe they turn out to be wrong. But the damage will be have been done anyway.

The big question is who is most damaged.

If the Senate find Trump not guilty, as is widely expected, Trump will claim exoneration and victory, and the Republicans who excused him will hope that propping up one of the most prominent of political charlatans won’t damage their re-election chances too much.

And it is  big political risk for the Democrats. If too many people think that this is  pointless political stunt then their re-election prospects may be set back.

The biggest damage is likely to be to US governance and democracy overall, if that reputation has any lower to go.


Meanwhile as expected both sides are claiming that the just released Horowitz report is damaging to the other side.

 

US House of Representatives to file impeachment charges

Fox News: Pelosi calls for articles of impeachment against Trump: ‘No choice but to act’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that Democrats will proceed with articles of impeachment against President Trump, declaring that the president’s conduct “leaves us no choice but to act.”

The announcement comes after a heated House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday featuring four law professors — most of them Democrat-invited witnesses who presented arguments for impeachment. Pelosi claimed the facts are now “uncontested” that Trump “abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security” by allegedly using aid as leverage to seek an investigation of the Bidens from Ukraine.

“Today, I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi stated during her brief address, referring to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

“The president’s actions have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said. Claiming America’s democracy is at stake, she said: “The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.”

The White House swiftly hit back, with Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeting the Democrats “should be ashamed.”

Trump “has done nothing but lead our country – resulting in a booming economy, more jobs & a stronger military, to name just a few of his major accomplishments. We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate,” she tweeted.

Of course Trump has had a say as well.

Trump himself accused Pelosi’s party of trying to impeach him over “NOTHING” and warned that it could set a dangerous precedent.

“This will mean that the beyond important and seldom used act of Impeachment will be used routinely to attack future Presidents. That is not what our Founders had in mind,” he tweeted.

That’s ridiculous, but ridiculous is normal from Trump.

Fox News: Trump threatens to call Bidens, Schiff, Pelosi to testify as speaker moves ahead with impeachment

President Trump on Thursday challenged House Democrats to impeach him “fast” and ship the process over to the Senate, where he threatened to seek testimony from top Democrats including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The president’s tweets followed an hourslong hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in what set the stage for the next phase of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry, with majority-invited law professors making the case that the president did abuse the office of the presidency by asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens while withholding aid. But the sole witness called by Republicans argued the contrary — he said the legal case to impeach Trump was “woefully inadequate” and even “dangerous.”

Funny Trump insisting who should testify when he has told members of his administration not to comply with subpoenas.

Fox News: Judge Nap: Ignoring congressional subpoena is obstruction and an impeachable offense

Following George Washington University law scholar Jonathan Turley’s testimony at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano disagreed with his stated argument that President Trump had the authority to disregard a subpoena issued by Congress.

“He can’t. That’s what Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were charged with. … You don’t have to comply with it, you have to challenge it or comply with it. Ignoring it is obstruction of Congress,” Napolitano told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, refuting Turley’s point that Trump was justified in commanding members of the administration not to comply.

Napolitano went on to say, “Congress doesn’t need the court’s permission to serve a subpoena and it doesn’t need the courts’ help in enforcing the subpoena. The courts have nothing to do with it, Congress makes the determination. We gave you the subpoena, you’re resisting us, that’s an impeachable offense. The House has voted that three times.”

Republicans and Democrats sparred as a panel of constitutional scholars kicked off a sharply partisan debate over whether to recommend President Trump’s impeachment.

With the decision to impeach to be made by the Democrat led House of representatives, and the trial to be held in the Republican led Senate, this can’t avoid being highly politicised.

And this is being played out in front of an increasingly polarised public. Many people think that Trump is the pits as a president, while others think either he is the best president ever (including Trump himself), or at least better than Clinton (not a great claim), or he should be excused all his faults and appalling behaviour because he is getting things done. Every president gets some things done, but they are as much judged on the damage they do as the good they do.

Trump consistently remains one of the least approved of presidents in recent decades, currently 41.8% approve, 53.3% disapprove on https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ (which also shows comparisons to past presidents).

There is a closer margin on impeachment, currently on 47.8% support, 44% don’t support. Theoretically something as serious as impeachment shouldn’t be a popularity contest, but it is very political, and with elections coming up next year what the public (voters) think may play an important part in the proceedings.

It is seen to be a political risk for Democrats to push forward with impeachment, but it also keeps some of Trump’s significant negative traits in the spotlight.