Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement has started to take effect

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (now CPTPP) came into effect yesterday, 30 December 2018.

This ended many years of negotiations, the addition of a number of countries that totalled twelve when the agreement was first signed, but shrunk slightly to eleven when Donald Trump pulled the US out of it (the way he conducts international relations and trashes trade agreements and uses them as threats it is probably better the US is not trying to mess things up).

RNZ: CPTPP takes effect: Exporters first to benefit, govt says

The government is predicting New Zealand exporters will be the first to benefit from the re-jigged TPP deal, which takes effect at midnight.

The Minister for Trade and Export Growth, David Parker, said tariffs in three significant economies – Japan, Canada and Mexico – start reducing immediately.

The new deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), also comes into force for Australia and Singapore at midnight.

Mexico and Canada will cut tariffs further in a second round of adjustments on New Year’s Day, while Vietnam will make a double tariff cut when it joins the trade deal on 14 January, and Japan’s second round will be three months later on 1 April.

Mr Parker said the agreement will give a further boost to the competitiveness of New Zealand products in those markets.

“The CPTPP has the potential to deliver an estimated $222 million of tariff savings to New Zealand exporters annually once it is fully in force, with almost half of that – or $105 million – now available in the first 12 months,” he said.

One export to benefit is fish and fish products, which currently face tariffs of 20 percent into Mexico and up to 10 percent in Japan, Mr Parker said.

“The CPTPP will see all tariffs eliminated on fisheries exports, with the majority of savings from today.”

He said Marlborough wine producers will gain immediate duty free access to Canada.

In the South Island, Mid Canterbury seed farmers who produce 50 percent of the world’s radish seeds, will benefit from the elimination of tariffs on horticultural exports within 15 years under CPTPP.

And in the Otago region he said summer fruits would see big benefits.

“CPTPP will see total tariff elimination on summer fruits, including cherries, for which the tariffs into Japan will be eliminated within six years.”

Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports that from today Japan will axe tariffs on kiwifruit, grapes and melons, and cut tariffs on imported beef from the current 38.5 percent to 27.5.

So it isn’t totally ‘free trade’, but it is a useful move in that direction.

Despite the benefits, National MP Todd McClay said the government needs to do everything it possibly can to bring the US back into the trade agreement.

“The government now needs to turn its attention to the US market, it’s the world’s largest consumer market, we haven’t got a trade deal with them, they need [the New Zealand government] to do everything they can to entice them back to the TPP and get better access for Kiwis for the US market”.

I don’t think it is worth the risk trying to get the US back into the CPTPP while Trump is President. He can’t be trusted to stick with trade agreements. He seems to think he can use agreements to threaten, and to renegotiate, at whim – as he has done with NAFTA. See “Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border……”

Trump changes Syrian war, Kurds feel betrayed

Donald Trump surprised many people and countries with his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. In protest US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, resigned.

Trump’s decision has forced a sudden chaange of approach in the war by Turket, and Syrian Kurds, used by the US in the war but regarded as terrorists by Turkey, feel betrayed.

Reuters – Syrian surprise: How Trump’s phone call changed the war

President Donald Trump’s declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border.

In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say.

Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.

“Trump asked: ‘If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?’”, a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.

“Then you do it,” Trump told him abruptly. To his national security adviser John Bolton, also on the call, Trump said: “Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

“I have to say it was an unexpected decision. The word ‘surprise’ is too weak to describe the situation,” said the official, one of five Turkish sources who spoke to Reuters about the Dec. 14 call between the two leaders.

Trump’s decision was also a shock in Washington, where senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, tried for days to change the president’s mind, U.S. officials said. When Trump made clear he would not back down, Mattis and a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned.

For Turkey, Trump’s decision offers opportunity and risk.

Ankara has complained bitterly for years that the United States, a NATO ally, had chosen the Kurdish YPG militia as its main partner on the ground in Syria against Islamic State.

Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group, inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed.

The U.S. withdrawal potentially frees Turkey’s military to push the YPG back from 500 km of border without risking a confrontation with American forces. It also removes a main cause of this year’s diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

But it also opens up an area of Syria far larger than anything Turkey had expected to fill, potentially pitting it against not just Kurdish forces but also the Damascus government – which is committed to regaining control of all of Syria – and its Russian and Iranian backers.

The YPG on Friday asked the Syrian government to take over the town of Manbij, which the Kurdish militia currently controls with U.S. support, to protect it from Turkish attack.

And if Turkish forces are to take on Islamic State in its last pocket of Syrian territory near the Iraqi border, they would first have to cross 250 km of territory controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Erdogan got more than he bargained for,” said Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute. “He had asked the U.S. to drop the YPG, but not withdraw from Syria”.

Alliances between groups fighting in Syria and countries involved in the war are complicated. Trump’s decision will force other countries to rethink their involvement, and will no doubt change the power struggles within and over Syria.

New York Times:  Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection

Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

The request surprised some American officials and could help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border.

That would be a big step toward Mr. Assad’s goal of reclaiming all of Syria, upended by almost eight years of war.

It was also the first sign that President Trump’s abrupt announcement last week that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria was not only shifting alliances in the conflict but directly benefiting Mr. Assad — a brutal autocrat once described by Mr. Trump as an “animal” responsible for chemical attacks and other atrocities.

American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.

The Kurdish militias are regarded by Turkey as dangerous, autonomy-minded insurgents. The United States regards them as valuable partners in helping rout Islamic State extremists from Syria — the original purpose of the American military deployment four years ago.

Although the American troops in Syria number only about 2,000, they have been a deterrent to an assault on the Kurdish militias by the Turks. The American presence also discouraged Mr. Assad’s forces from sweeping into the area even as they retook major areas elsewhere from anti-government fighters, often with the support of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Trump’s surprise announcement that he would pull American troops had raised fears of a scramble by competing forces to exploit the resulting vacuum.

It’s hard to know whether trump understands the implications of his sudden decision or not.

Groups controlling land in Syria:

 

The areas run by the Kurds in Syria have long stood apart in the conflict. They had hoped, with their American friends, to pioneer an alternative model for Syria’s future.

While none of the other powers fighting in Syria liked the situation, they mostly avoided attacking the area for fear of provoking the United States. Now, with that deterrent set to end, the future of the northeast is up in the air.

Those most likely to gain, analysts say, are the Syrian government and its allies, who want to bring the northeast back under the control of Damascus, both for the good of Mr. Assad and for their own interests.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in Syria now.

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

This should really sort out trade and migration issues.

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

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

 

Victim-in-chief has some worthwhile achievements

President Donald Trump is claiming to be the victim in advance of the Democrats taking control of the US Congress.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Democratic attempts at oversight in the coming Congress could amount to “presidential harassment.”

Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump again denied any collusion between his team and Russia when he was questioned about the investigative powers Democrats will assume come January.

“It’s probably presidential harassment and we know how to handle that. I know how to handle that better than anybody,” Trump said.

“You’re talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money,” Trump said. “There’s been absolutely no collusion. But there has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats, with Russia and a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn’t have been dealing with, including very dishonest people.”

He has a record of blaming others for what he has done.

It’s a bit ironic Trump accusing others of harassment – or in this case possible harassment in the future. This could be seen as him harassing the Democrats to try to avoid being held to account.

“It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” Trump fumed, seated behind the Resolute Desk. “But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.”

I just can’t help laughing at that. Time and again he comes across as a fool out of his depth.

But there has been some achievements in the two years he has been President (Barack Obama achieved some things too, al presidents do).

CNN: Five things even Trump critics can give him credit for this Christmas

President Donald Trump ends his second year in office isolated and under siege. A self-inflicted government shutdown is happening over Christmas, the stock market is suffering its worst month in a decade (compounded by his talk of sacking the Fed chair) and the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is sending shudders through America’s military and allies.

But these criticisms are for another day — pretty much any other day.

Today is Christmas. And in a spirit of finding the best in people, I promised myself I’d look for a few areas of agreement with a President with whom I disagree quite a lot.

After all, if you view politics through a historical lens, you’ll see that even our worst Presidents have some redeeming qualities. And if those can’t be found personally, they can be found in policy.

Criminal justice reform

President Trump got it done after decades of talk. He cobbled together a bipartisan coalition to pass the First Step Act and used his bully pulpit to push past a reluctant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had pronounced the legislation “divisive” just weeks before. As a measure of that alleged divisiveness, the legislation passed by an overwhelming 87-12 margin.

The law blends common sense and compassion, redeeming reformed lives while saving money in the process. It promises to lessen the sentences of nonviolent criminals and reduce frankly racist sentencing disparities. And it’s the kind of bill that could only command Republican support if it were backed by a law-and-order candidate, which itself speaks to the stupid partisanship that usually outweighs policy.

Getting tough on China

…he’s been clear-eyed and mostly consistent when it comes to standing up to China’s exploitation of international systems to fuel its expansion while creating a technological surveillance state.

Team Trump has realized that time is running out to have any leverage on China in the effort to get it to act like a responsible global power. And while I don’t support Trump’s trade war tactics — mostly because they have lumped in allies like Canada with China — the President has been right to call out abuse of trade treaties by China that have created an unequal playing field on issues from manufacturing to intellectual property to massive state sponsored cyber theft.

Economic opportunity zones

The tax cut bill most often trumpeted as the prime achievement of the Trump era was actually a disaster. It stimulated an economy that was already overheated, promises to exacerbate the growing gap between the rich and poor (as well as the super-rich and middle class) and its failure to close corporate loopholes is already exploding our deficit and debt, reducing tax receipts in a booming economy.

That said, there is an excellent and overdue provision in the otherwise lousy tax bill — economic opportunity zones. Consider this the belated love child of Jack Kemp’s dwindling influence in the Republican Party, incentivizing investment in poverty-stricken neighborhoods through tax breaks on capital gains. It’s exactly the sort of smart, targeted government action that may finally spur development in our atrophied regional economies.

‘Right-to-try’ legislation

This is a comparatively small step, but it radiates common sense and actually shows a rare libertarian streak. The “right-to-try” legislation had been embraced by a number of states, but the federal government had been opposed until Trump pushed the bill into enactment.

Basically, it allows terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs. The logic is simple: what do they have to lose? Why not give patients and their families access to whatever experimental drug they want if it might be able to save or prolong their life?

The Music Modernization Act

… Orrin Hatch sponsored, and Trump signed, a worthwhile and overdue piece of legislation that stops musicians from getting screwed by streaming services and cuts down on the power of predatory middle men.

There will always be positives if you look for them. The hope has to be that they are not overwhelmed by negatives – and that the President is not overly distracted or even overwhelmed by negatives.

Oversight of the president, especially this president, is as important as ever, no matter how much Trump complains about it.

 

 

 

US stock market slump, Trump blames someone else

The US stock market is having a bad week, slumping to lows for the year and said to be ‘on the cusp of a bear market’. President Donald Trump praised himself when the market rose to record highs, but as has become typical of him, he blames someone else when it dives.

Trading has a few hours to go before closing for Christmas but it is not looking good for the last five days:

The US markets closed at 1 pm on Christmas Eve. Dow Jones  closed on 21,792 , down 653.17 (2.91%) for the day.

Nor for the year:

New York Times: Stock Market Rout Has Trump Fixated on Fed Chair Powell

President Trump has unabashedly hitched his political fortunes to a rising stock market. Now, with stock prices in retreat, he has become increasingly fixated on the idea that one man is to blame for the recent rout: Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

After the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday, the fifth consecutive quarterly increase, Mr. Trump fretted to aides that Mr. Powell would “turn me into Hoover,” a reference to the man who was president in the early years of the Great Depression.

Mr. Trump has said choosing Mr. Powell for the Fed job last year was the worst mistake of his presidency, and he has asked aides whether he has the power to fire him.

But the volatile stock market, which just posted its worst week since 2008, is falling in part because of Mr. Trump’s own policies, including an escalating trade war with China, a shutdown of the federal government and the fading effects of the $1.5 trillion tax cut Mr. Trump ushered in at the end of 2017. While the Fed’s rate increases have upset investors — who seem to have a darker view of economic growth than the central bank does — some analysts said Mr. Trump’s musings about the Fed would only exacerbate anxieties.

Mr. Trump’s economic advisers scrambled over the weekend to reassure markets that Mr. Trump was not, in fact, planning to fire Mr. Powell. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted what he said was a quote from Mr. Trump accepting that he did not even have the power to do so.

While Mr. Trump has turned on his chairman, the Fed’s trajectory should not have been a surprise.

When Mr. Trump chose Mr. Powell as Fed chairman in the fall of 2017, he said, “Based on his record, I am confident that Jay has the wisdom and leadership to guide our economy through any challenges that our great economy may face.”

Mr. Trump also chose three of the other four members of the Fed’s board, all of whom joined Mr. Powell in voting for all four 2018 rate increases.

In conversations with friends and advisers, Mr. Trump has acknowledged responsibility for the selection of Mr. Powell. He told Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation, that it was “one of the worst choices I’ve ever made,” according to Mr. Moore.

Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said presidents had often tried to shape Fed policy, but the current episode stood apart because Mr. Trump appeared to be acting against his own interest in a stable economy.

“I think what is the unusual part here is that it seems the president has created the crisis,” she said. “His intervention certainly seems to be making things worse for him and worse for the Fed and worse for the economy. It’s just very shortsighted, and we’re not used to that.”

@HoarseWhisperer

The punchline of Trump’s meltdown over the markets and Fed:

– Every sane human knew we were in for a bumpy landing after the long recovery under Obama

– Trump did everything possible to make that worse

– That was a recipe for disaster

Trump is now blaming everyone else for his ignorant, moronic decision to steer the Trumptanic economy right into the iceberg A competent president would have focused on things that fuel growth like:

1) Expansion of trade – rather than the opposite: trade wars

2) Pro-working class tax relief to fuel consumer spending

3) Expansion of “green” incentives to grow renewables and further reduce reliance on oil, gas and coal

4) Small business incentives to spur the true engine of the labor force

5) Reductions of loopholes and credits which shield large corporations from taxation and incent moving business abroad

6) Efforts at controlling health care costs since every consumer dollar spent toward HC isn’t spent elsewhere in the economy

7) Managing down runaway enthusiasm about the economy and growth since it leads to consumers spending their way into deeper debt which then produces a nasty backlash when the bills come due.

Every step of the way, Trump has done the diametric opposite of what he should have.

He steered the economy out of smooth waters toward calamity – and along the way, he robbed the ship of fuel to enrich the already rich.

Now, the battleship can’t be turned fast enough to help and he has no effing clue what he did wrong let alone how to fix it.

Meanwhile, over on Main Street, USA, average Americans who bought his bullshit deficit-spent thinking they’d get a present on Tax Day.

A cooling economy. Consumer wages going sideways. Bills going up. No money in the treasury to help.

This is going to be a sh**-show.

Trump inherited an eight-year expansion. A healthy economy with some navigable challenges.

He burned the whole damn thing down by being an incompetent, narcissistic moron… …and steered the entire economy straight toward full-blown recession.

This is going to be ugly.

Stock markets can be fickle things, but after a good run for years it was on the cards that there would be a correction, or worse, It looks like heading for worse right now, regardless of who is to blame – but the big buck stops at the President’s desk.

The US stock market may drag the world down with it. We can hope that heading into the holiday period it may not be so bad here in New Zealand,

 

Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syria pullout announcement

Of the many resignations from the Trump administration Defence Secretary Jim Mattis walking away seems to have caused the most consternation.

It is claimed that Mattis resigned ij protest and on principle over Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw troops from Syria.

Fox News: Behind the scenes of the Mattis bombshell: More resignations expected after ‘protest’ exit

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, which shocked Washington’s national security establishment and rattled America’s allies, was sealed in a fateful 18-hour period that saw President Trump resolve to withdraw troops from Syria – alarming Pentagon officials who see America’s role in the region as crucial.

“Make no mistake – Jim Mattis is resigning in protest over the president’s national security policies,” a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

Fox News is told more resignations at the Pentagon could be coming in Mattis’ wake.

Trump has stood by his Syria decision, telling detractors that the pullout should come as “no surprise” given his 2016 campaign promises and arguing that America’s role as “Policeman of the Middle East” is not worth the sacrifice.

But Mattis could not abide the call. Fox News has learned new details of the final moments that led the hardened Pentagon leader to march his resignation letter to the White House, setting off speculation – and bipartisan concern – about the direction Trump’s foreign policy will take in the new year, especially with John Kelly leaving as White House chief of staff.

Before leaving for the White House, Mattis watched the president’s video explaining his decision to pull out of Syria. In the video, Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS … and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

According to those familiar with the secretary’s decision, it was a resignation based on principle.

Fox News is told that Mattis believes pulling out of Syria is a betrayal to the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces – U.S. allies whom military leaders believe will be slaughtered once the U.S. leaves Syria.

In Washington, what comes next may be another seminal debate that will define the principles of the Republican Party for years to come.  In his military drawdown effort, Trump has found allies in lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who adamantly oppose U.S. intervention overseas.

But for now, they are overwhelmed by hawkish Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham who consider such pullouts a grave and strategic mistake.

The Syria pullout was coupled with news that the Pentagon is being told to consider withdrawing up to 7,000 troops from Afghanistan – or half the U.S. presence – against the advice of senior military leaders.

“If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said, regarding Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Mattis was asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum whether he was being pressured to pull out of Afghanistan. Mattis warned of the consequences of doing so:

“If we leave, 20-odd of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world centered in that region, and we walk out of there, then we know what will happen. Our intelligence services are very specific that we will be under attack in a number of years.”

There are risks whatever is done in the Middle East, in particular at the moment regarding Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The US withdrawing must give Russia significantly more influence.

Much may now depend on who Trump appoints in place of Mattis, but the sudden resignation may create an immediate problem – unless a new Defence Secretary is appointed soon that may give Trump a free hand to do as he wants less restrained. That will worry a quite a few people – and more than a few countries.

Mattis to Depart in February After Clash With Trump Over Syria

So Mattis will remain in the job for two months, but his influence is likely to be significantly reduced in that time.

Graham: Afghanistan Withdrawal Paves Way Toward 2nd 9/11

Trump’s Decision Ends Policy That Found Lukewarm Support in U.S.

 

 

 

 

Russian influence in 2016 US election a social media facilitated democratic and social war

Foreign interference in a country’s election is a serious matter. A US Senate Intelligence Committee report details Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election using social media.

NY Times: Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

The second report was written by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University along with Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media. The Washington Post first reported on the Oxford report on Sunday.

The Russian influence campaign in 2016 was run by a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, owned by a businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Prigozhin and a dozen of the company’s employees were indicted last February as part of the investigation of Russian interference by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

So it would seem that Mueller has been doing some important and successful investigations.

Both reports stress that the Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names on virtually every available platform. A major goal was to support Donald Trump, first against his Republican rivals in the presidential race, then in the general election, and as president since his inauguration.

This wasn’t an anti-Democrat pro-Republican campaign of interference in the election, but also a pro-trump anti-Republican opponent campaign. So it started with interference in democratic selection processes of the Republican Party, and once that was successful it became an anti-Hillary Clinton and Anti-Democrat campaign.

US democracy was already in a poor state, dominated by monied interests, but it has now been trashed further by a foreign government.

And because some people got the election outcome the wanted they make excuses and ignore the serious nature of this interference.

The Russian campaign was the subject of Senate hearings last year and has been widely scrutinized by academic experts. The new reports largely confirm earlier findings: that the campaign was designed to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Mr. Trump and exacerbate existing divisions in American society.

The interference aims also included trying to divide and trash US society.

Questions still need to be answered about why Trump was aided in the candidate selection process and the presidential election. There are claims and indications that the Trump side saw financial and power rewards.

Did the Russians see a potential puppet whose strings they could pull to get US policies that favoured Russia? Or did they see an opportunity to diminish the power of the US by dividing their society? Possibly both.

The threats of nuclear war and the standoff of the Cold War are now history. Russia versus the United States has become a social media facilitated democratic and social war.

But Trump is president and that’s all that matters, the end justifies the means?

The problem with this is that the end is nigh, not done and dusted.

Cohen sentenced to 3 years in prison for Trump hush money payments

Michael Cohen, ex ‘fixer’ lawyer for Donald Trump, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison in the United States for paying hush money to silence women during the 2016 election campaign.

RNZ: Donald Trump ex-lawyer Michael Cohen sentenced to 3 years prison

He was jailed for his role in the payment of hush money to women who said they had affairs with Mr Trump, and for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia discussed during the 2016 election campaign.

Cohen had pleaded guilty in August to charges by federal prosecutors in New York that, just before the election, he paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $US130,000 and helped arrange a $US150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal so the women would keep quiet about their past relationships with Trump, who is married.

Cohen faced sentencing on a separate charge of lying to Congress brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election and possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Cohen pleaded guilty to that charge last month.

Prosecutors have said the payments violated campaign finance laws. Cohen told prosecutors the payments were directed by Trump, implicating the president in a possible campaign finance law violation.

Federal law requires that the contribution of “anything of value” to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $US2700.

Mr Trump denies having the affairs or being involved in the payments.

It’s hard to take any Trump denials seriously given his track record of making false claims and lying. And it seems a real stretch to believe he knew nothing about substantial payments being made on his behalf.

The judge sentenced Cohen to 36 months for the payments, which violated campaign finance law, and to two months for the false statements to Congress. The two terms will run simultaneously.

Three years is a hefty sentence, especially for campaign finance violations.

Theoretically, if Trump was charged for being involved in the same offences he could face that sort of sentence too.

 

Inquiries of concern to Trump

More has been revealed about what investigators have found out from the Muller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The more concern Donald Trump shows the more one could wonder why he is so concerned.

Both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen have been accused of lying too investigators. Trump claims they have been ‘pressured into lying’ by investigators. But why would they lie?

Bloomberg: Manafort Lied About Contacts With Trump Administration, Mueller Says

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to prosecutors about his efforts to reach someone in the Trump administration this year while he awaited trial and about his contacts with a business associate who had ties to Russian intelligence, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort misled prosecutors in recent debriefings about his communications and a meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, the associate with ties to Russian intelligence, according to a filing Friday in federal court in Washington by Mueller, who is investigating Russia interference in the 2016 campaign.

He also lied to investigators when he told them that he never tried to communicate a message to anyone in the Trump administration this year, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said that they met 12 times with Manafort and that he testified twice to a grand jury, on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Mueller concluded that Manafort had “lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions,” his prosecutors wrote in the 10-page filing, adding that “these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”

Reuters: Cohen Gave Significant Help on Russia Probe, Mueller Team Says

RealClear Politics: Prosecutors Recommend Several Years in Prison for Michael Cohen

Prosecutors offered a vastly different assessment Friday of the president’s former fixer, dismissing him as a duplicitous figure who badly misplayed his hand.

In a court filing ahead of Cohen’s sentencing next week, they assailed him as a greedy opportunist who rode Trump’s coattails to wealth and is now exaggerating his level of cooperation with investigators.

Cohen, 52, is facing the possibility of roughly four years in prison at a sentencing Dec. 12 for crimes that include tax evasion and helping to coordinate hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

In a separate court filing, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office had a more kind view of Cohen’s cooperation, saying he had provided useful information about attempts by Russian intermediaries to influence Trump, as well as other matters.

New York prosecutors said that while Cohen was helpful, he had declined to sign a formal cooperation agreement, which would have required him to confess any other crimes he might have committed. Cohen, they wrote, wasn’t willing to do so. They suggested only a slight reduction in his sentence for his cooperation.

For the first time prosecutors have directly linked trump to arrangements to pay hush money to two women during the campaign.

Reuters:  Prosecutors Name Trump in Hush Payments to Two Women

U.S. prosecutors said on Friday President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to make illegal hush payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, and also detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help the Trump campaign.

The documents turned up the heat on Trump by confirming prosecutors’ belief of his involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016, legal experts said.

“In total, the prosecutors seem to be saying the president was more aware than he has claimed to be,” former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin said.

While Cohen implicated the president in the hush payments to two women — adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in his guilty plea in August in New York, the filing on Friday marked the first time federal prosecutors officially concurred.

It said Cohen made the payments in “coordination with and the direction of” Trump.

Last week, Cohen admitted to lying to congressional investigators in an attempt to minimize his efforts to secure the Kremlin’s help for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow. He has said he did so to stay in sync with Trump’s political messaging, and that he consulted with the White House while preparing to testify to Congress.

Mueller said on Friday that Cohen repeated his false statements about the project in his first meeting with Mueller’s office, admitting the truth only in a later meeting in September after he had pleaded guilty to the separate New York charges.

On Friday, Mueller said Cohen’s false statements to Congress had “obscured the fact” that the skyscraper project held the potential to reap “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for the Trump Organization.

The future for both Manafort and Cohen looks a bit bleak. Prison is a big price to pay for trying to protect themselves and Trump.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also claimed that Russia interfered in the election: Rex Tillerson makes rare public appearance in Houston

When asked if he believes that Russia interfered in the presidential elections, Tillerson replied “there’s no question” and that it was well documented by intelligence agencies.

“What Russia wants to do is undermine our confidence and undermine the world’s confidence in us,” Tillerson said.

The relationship between him and Trump became strained after the president grew tired of the former Exxon Mobil CEO telling him that he could not do things the way he wanted.

Tillerson said the two had starkly different styles and did not share a common value system.

“So often, the president would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law,” Tillerson said.

Trump would get very frustrated when they would have those conversations, he said.

Trump responded in typical fashion:

In the meantime Trump has attacked court decisions he doesn’t like again: Trump condemns ‘disgraceful’ 9th Circuit, dubbing it rubber-stamp for his foes

In lengthy and fiery comments to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday, President Trump excoriated the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as a “disgrace” hours after a federal judge there issued a nationwide injunction against his newly announced emergency restrictions on asylum claims.

One could question Trump’s mental capacity to be President, and whether his attacks on anyone who says something he doesn’t like and his attacks on court decisions he doesn’t like are a disgrace.

Trump successfully worked with a dysfunctional democratic system to become president, but it seems that a democracy with legal checks and balances on power are not something he wants to work with.

Trump does have the power to pardon Manafort (and Cohen but that seems unlikely after Cohen implicated Trump in shady dealings), but if he does that would be just about as bad a look as if Trump tried to interfere with or stop the Mueller investigations.

Whimsiest of tweets affecting Wall Street

I heard an old  saying repeated last night (1 News) – “When America sneezes the world catches a cold”.

Another saying could now be appropriate – “When Donald Trump tweets Wall street sneezes”.

Wall Street went up when the US and China seemed to come to an agreement to avert more tariff increases, but it has dipped after Trump tweets raised uncertainty.

Bloomberg: China Swings Into Action on Trade as Trump Ups Pressure for “Real Deal”

U.S. President Donald Trump said China is sending “very strong signals” following weekend trade discussions in Argentina, as uncertainty remains over what commitments were made between the two nations.

Beijing will start to quickly implement specific items where there’s consensus with the U.S. and will push forward on trade negotiations within the 90-day “timetable and road map,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Wednesday morning in China.

Hours later, Bloomberg News reported that officials have begun preparing to restart imports of U.S. soybeans and liquefied natural gas — the first sign confirming the claims of Trump and the White House that China had agreed to start buying some U.S. products “immediately.”

Global markets cheered the weekend accord on Monday, only to reverse course Tuesday as doubts emerged over exactly what the world’s two largest economies had agreed on.

NY Times: Trump Warns China He’s “Tariff Man,” Spooking Stock Investors

The trade war is back on — at least as far as investors are concerned.

Stocks sank on Tuesday, as President Trump threatened China with further tariffs, just days after the two countries agreed to a cease-fire in their escalating economic conflict. Referring to himself as a “Tariff Man,” Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, deepened the murkinesssurrounding the trade agreement, while members of his economic team talked down the prospects of a broad deal.

The fear is that a lasting trade war will undermine the global growth at a time when some of the world’s largest economies are already slowing down, and the United States, a standout performer, is also expected to slow.

Stock markets always go up and down, sometimes seemingly for the flimsiest of reasons.

Add to that are fluctuations now due to the whimsiest of tweets.

The worry is that a whopper of a whimsy may precipitate a stock market slide down a slippery slope.