US nuclear general discusses illegal order to strike

This seems to be hypothetical musing but it is seen as significant that a US General involved in nuclear strike decisions openly discussed what he would do if given an illegal order to launch nukes.

Reuters: U.S. nuclear general says would resist ‘illegal’ Trump strike order

The top U.S. nuclear commander said on Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

As head of STRATCOM “I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said in his remarks, retransmitted in a video posted on the forum’s Facebook page.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I‘m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

His job requires him to resist any president who might give illegal orders. This is one of the checks and balances on presidential power.

But why is the General being asked about this now?

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden United Nations address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

Trump’s unpredictability and impetuousness seems to be raising concerns, as they should.

The world has raised concerns about the nuclear risk. As long as we can be assured a nuclear strike can’t be ordered via Twitter it may not be as bad as it seems.

Trump and GOP struggling

With a GOP majority in both the House and the Senate it was expected that President Donald Trump should be able to achieve a lot, but after 6 months in power both the White House and the Republicans are struggling for traction.

Politico: Senate Republicans still at impasse after late-night health care meeting

GOP senators engaged in talks late Wednesday night to try to revive their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare after Trump told senators they shouldn’t leave town without action.

NY Times: Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

That is sure to raise a few eyebrows, if they haven’t disappeared over the back of heads already.

Bloomberg: Trump’s Honeymoon With China Comes to an End

  • Economic talks end with no joint statement from two countries
  • Ross says trade imbalance not driven by market forces

Three months ago, President Donald Trump had warm words for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after the two leaders bonded at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Within weeks, the Trump administration was touting early wins in talks with China, including more access for U.S. beef and financial services as well as help in trying to rein in North Korea.

Now, the two sides can barely agree how to describe their disagreements.

High-level economic talks in Washington broke up Wednesday with the two superpowers unable to produce a joint statement. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross scolded China over its trade imbalance with the U.S. in his opening remarks, and then both sides canceled a planned closing news conference.

It is not just the pressure on Trump to achieve results that’s growing, the pressure is also growing on him and his family.

Bloomberg: Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions

  • Special counsel examines dealings of Kushner, Manafort, Trump
  • Trump lawyer says this goes beyond Mueller’s mandate

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Reuters: Trump’s son, close associates to appear before Senate

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee said on Wednesday that it had called Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Manafort to testify on July 26 at a hearing.

The president’s son released emails earlier this month that showed him eagerly agreeing to meet last year with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The meeting was also attended by Manafort and Kushner, who is now a senior adviser at the White House.

Kushner is scheduled to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday, July 24, behind closed doors.

Trump, who came into office in January, has been dogged by allegations that his campaign officials were connected to Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of interfering in last year’s election. Trump has denied any collusion.

The current list of news links at Real Clear Politics paint a fairly grim picture, as does their rolling average of disapproval for Trump, dipping again recently to 39.7% approve, 55.5% disapprove.

And it’s not just Trump’s White House  that’s struggling.

RCP: GOP Divide Threatens 2018 Budget — and Tax Overhaul

The House Budget Committee passed its fiscal blueprint for next year Wednesday evening with unanimous GOP support, but intra-party divisions threaten to derail the measure in the full House, jeopardizing plans to pass an overhaul of the tax code, a key legislative priority of President Trump and congressional Republicans.

It’s a familiar position for the party: Hard-line conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are frustrated that the conference isn’t pushing further to curb spending; moderates are wary that they’re pushing too far; and those supportive of the budget are concerned that detractors are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Signs of a lack of strong or credible leadership, and also a lack of unity.

Johnny Depp’s assassination comments

In a time of growing concerns about talk of violence and actual violence against politicians in the US Johnny Depp has added fuel to a fomenting fire with outlandish comments about president assassination.

Fox News:  Johnny Depp talks about assassinating Trump

At an appearance in England on Thursday, actor Johnny Depp joked about assassinating President Trump.

“I think he needs help and there are a lot of wonderful dark, dark places he could go,” Depp said.

Depp, noting his comments would “be in the press,” began discussing prior assassinations of presidents.

“When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” he asked, referencing John Wilkes Booth assassinating President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

“I want to clarify, I am not an actor. I lie for a living,” Depp said. “However, it has been a while and maybe it is time.”

Depp’s comments come a week after the politically-motivated shooting of Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise.

Very unwise and irresponsible comments from Depp.

A White House official told Fox News, “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and its sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a democrat elected official.”

Fair call – comments like those Depp made should be condemned regardless of the politics involved.

People: Johnny Depp Apologizes for Joking About Trump Assassination: ‘I Intended No Malice’

“I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump,” he said. “It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”

This is a very poor apology.

“Intended no malice” is a poor excuse for making a comment that is inflammatory and provocative. “I was only trying to amuse” is a lame excuse – actually it isn’t an excuse at all.

“It did not come out as intended” doesn’t stack up – he talked about assassination and presidents, so it’s hard to see what he intended that was different.

What Depp should have done was give an unqualified apology, and he should also have  condemned all political violence and talk that could be seen by anyone as promotion of political violence.

Trump “did not make…any such recordings”

On May 13 Donald Trump appeared to threaten James Comey by implying their conversations had been recorded:

This prompted a lot of discussion. Trump eventually said he would reveal whether there were any recordings.

Yesterday: Schiff: Subpoenas possible if Trump tapes, Comey memos aren’t turned over

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that subpoenas could be the next step if the White House doesn’t comply with a Friday deadline to hand over information on any tapes of President Donald Trump’s meetings with former FBI Director James Comey.

Half an hour ago:

A bizarre response, six weeks after implying/threatening there were tapes.

Why did Trump make the claim in the first place? It looks like he was threatening Comey.

Why did he take so long to now claim he didn’t make any recordings?

He could have easily clarified as soon as his initial tweet raised questions, but chose to delay a denial that contradicted his initial tweet.

He seems to have deliberately fed a sideshow of his own making.  Whether he is playing trivial or serious games it is unbecoming of a President.

Why should anyone believe the initial tweet, today’s tweet, or any tweet from Trump?

Whether he is bullshitting or bluffing or whatever Trump’s tweets should be seen as flaky as he is.

French presidential election

It looks very likely that no candidate will get a clear majority in the first presidential election in France, meaning that a second election will be held next month. But it is uncertain which two candidates will make the run-off, with a poll predicted 25% of voters undecided.

Guardian: French election: vote heading for nailbiting climax – live

Final polls show four leading presidential candidates so close that any two could go through to runoff in two weeks’ time

It’s not exactly nail biting if the result won’t be known until after a second vote in two weeks.

There are 11 candidates but four seem to have a chance of getting through:

Emmanuel Macron

Party: En Marche! (On the Move!). Centrist: liberal economically, left socially
In brief: Fresh, internationally-minded, upbeat

Marine Le Pen

Party: Front National. Far-right.
In brief: Imperious, combative, theatrical, ruthlessly determined; France first.

François Fillon

Party: Les Républicains. Centre-right, conservative.
In brief: Family, faith and the free market; now also alleged abuser of public funds

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Party: La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Radical left
In brief: Power to the people, sharp tongue, fiery oratory, great showman

Only one candidate to the left of centre.

France’s 2017 presidential election has been one of the tightest and least predictable in generations. After the final set of opinion polls on Friday, of four candidates leading the first round any two could conceivably make it to the runoff.

FrenchPresidentialPoll2017

What’s more, up to 25% of voters were estimated to be undecided on the eve of the vote. No one, in short, should be under any illusions: anything could yet happen.

How does France’s system of vote estimates work?

The initial vote estimate in French elections – in use and steadily perfected since 1965 – is based on an actual vote count.

Pollsters select about 200 polling stations around the country, in rural areas, small towns and urban agglomerations, carefully chosen to be as representative as possible of the country as a whole.

When the polling stations close – all are among those that close early, at 7pm – and as the votes are being counted, a polling official records, for a sizeable sample of the ballots, the number of votes for each candidate.

Those numbers are then run through a sophisticated computer program that adjusts them for past results and assorted variables, and produces a national vote estimate. This is not the official result, but nor is it an opinion poll.

It is usually very accurate, to within a percentage point of so – but this being an exceptionally close race, a percentage point may be decisive. So either we will have a reliable result at 7pm, or we won’t.

That must be 7 pm UK time, it is currently 7:48 pm in France (5:48 am NZ) so we may have an idea of how it might be going soon.

That means beware of fake vote estimates on social media.

First vote estimate (these vary from different sources):

  • Macron 23.7%
  • Le Pen 21.7%
  • Fillon 19.5%
  • Mélenchon 19.5%
  • Hamon (Socialist) 6.5%

Some sources have Macron and Le Pen level.

The only thing virtually certain from that is that there will need to be a run off election.

It’s now being widely called as heading for a run-off election between Macron and Le Pen.

The French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve:

I solemnly call for a vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round in order to beat the Front National and obstruct the disastrous project of Marine Le Pen that would take France backwards and divide the French people.

I don’t know whether this will help or hinder Macron’s chances.

The centre-right candidate François Fillon has conceded defeat and is also urging support of Macron.

Despite all my efforts, my determination, I have not succeeded in convincing my fellow countrymen and women. The obstacles in my path were too numerous and too cruel. This defeat is mine, I accept the responsibility, it is mine and mine alone to bear.

We have to choose what is best for our country. Abstention is not in my genes, above all when an extremist party is close to power. The Front National is well known for its violence its intolérance, and its programme would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos.

Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children.

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris explains what lies ahead politically in France, with the parliamentary elections crucial to how either Le pen or Macron would be able to govern.

Whoever wins the Macron-Le Pen race, the parliamentary elections that follow in June will be crucial. The majority in the lower house will determine how a new president could govern, and France is likely to require a new form of coalition politics.

If elected, Macron – who is fielding MP candidates from his fledgling movement, En Marche! (On the Move) – would have to seek a new kind of parliamentary majority across the centre left-right divide.

If Le Pen did win the presidency, she would very probably not win a parliament majority, thwarting her ability to govern. But her party hopes to increase its MPs in the 577-seat house. Currently Le Pen has only two MPs.

So similar to the US tiered system there is a lot involved in making progress for a president.

Interesting that they vote for president first, then decide what parliamentary support or opposition to give the incoming president.

An interesting graphic of predicted support shifts for the run-off.

Who gets first and who gets second is not very significant as both the leading candidates go to a run off, but the numbers seem to be changing.

UPDATE: Results with 106 of 107 departments counted:

  • Macron 23.75%
  • Le Pen 21.53%
  • Fillon 19.91%
  • Melenchon 19.64%
  • Hamon 6.35%
  • Dupont-Aignan 4.75%
  • Lassalle 1.22%
  • Poutou 1.1%
  • Asselineau 0.92%
  • Arthaud 0.65%
  • Cheminade 0.18%

https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/apr/23/french-presidential-election-results-2017-latest

UK & Europe

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


BBC: Turkey referendum: Final campaigning ahead of landmark vote

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to replace the parliamentary system with an executive presidency.

Approval could see him stay in office until 2029.

Supporters say a “yes” vote would streamline and modernise the country; opponents fear the move would lead to increasingly authoritarian rule.

The referendum could bring about the biggest change to the governing system since the modern republic was founded almost a century ago.

It also takes place under a state of emergency which was imposed following a failed coup last July. A government crackdown since then has seen tens of thousands of people arrested.

What’s in the new constitution?

  • The president would be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers
  • He would also be able to assign one or several vice-presidents
  • The job of prime minister, currently held by Binali Yildirim, would be scrapped
  • The president would have power to intervene in the judiciary, which Mr Erdogan has accused of being influenced by Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher he blames for the July 2016 coup against him
  • The president would decide whether or not impose a state of emergency
Grey line

Critics fear the change would put too much power in the president’s grasp, amounting to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.

Sounds like Erdogan is seeking a mandate for a virtual dictatorship.

If he loses the vote is that going to stop him?

UK & Europe – French election

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK-EU


The first round of the French presidential election is due to be held next weekend, on 23 April. There are 11 candidates, and if no candidate wins a majority the top two candidates will have a run-off election on 7 May.

Current president François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) has had low approval ratings and won’t stand for re-election.

Front running candidates:

Fillon’s chances took a hit when it was alleged that he has used family members in fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants in what became known as Penelopegate.

And now French prosecutors seek to lift Le Pen immunity over expenses inquiry

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election.

The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round.

The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates.

From the Guardian: French elections: all you need to know

UK & Europe

UK-EU

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.


This week President Erdogan of Turkey has accused both Germany and the Netherlands of acting like Nazis as relations between the countries sour.

About a week ago, Telegraph: Erdogan accuses Germany of behaving ‘like Nazis’ after Turks banned from political rallies

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Sunday of “fascist actions” reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.

German politicians reacted with shock and anger. German justice minister Heiko Maas told broadcaster ARD that Mr Erdogan’s comments were “absurd, disgraceful and outlandish” and designed to provoke a reaction from Berlin.

Now BBC: Turkey referendum: Dutch are Nazi remnants – Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the Dutch as “Nazi remnants and fascists”, as a diplomatic row grows over a cancelled rally.

The Turkish foreign minister was due to speak in the Dutch city of Rotterdam on Saturday in support of a referendum to give Mr Erdogan greater powers.

But the rally was banned for security reasons, and the minister’s plane was then refused permission to land.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the remark was “way out of line”.

“It’s a crazy remark, of course,” Mr Rutte said.

Turkey has summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires to the foreign ministry in Ankara for an explanation.

In a strange twist, Turkey’s family minister will attempt to travel by land to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya is in Germany for separate meetings but plans to head to the Netherlands later, despite having her meetings there cancelled.

President Erdogan reacted to the ban on his foreign minister by threatening to block Dutch flights.

He said: “Ban our foreign minister from flying however much you like, but from now on, let’s see how your flights will land in Turkey.”

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also warned Turkey would impose heavy sanctions if his visit were blocked.

Mr Rutte warned in a statement (in Dutch) that the Turkish threat of sanctions made “the search for a reasonable solution impossible”.

Erdogan may be trying to play tough to his domestic audience but his international relations don’t look flash.

UK & Europe

UK-EU

 

More trouble within the European Union.

Guardian: Poland reacts with fury to re-election of Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU.

The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury.

“We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.

Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration.

Moving on from Trump’s speech

There have been many interpretations of one of the most picked over speeches in history, President Trump’s inauguration speech.

Some see it as a unifying speech for all American people (that is, the United States of American people, not the other North Americans, the Central Americans or the South Americans).

Others think that it targets white Americans and alienates others.

While the speech will have been very carefully crafted and checked before going to air it is impossible to prevent negative interpretations. While many people only see good in President Trump, many others only see evil.

Trump has spoken publicly a lot over the past two years, through the Republican primaries, through the presidential campaign, and since then leading up to his inauguration.

He has talked and talked and talked the talk.

Now it’s time for him to walk the walk. Trump is president, that’s a done deal. Now the real dealing begins. He acknowledged this in his speech:

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

We won’t know how he will be as President until we see what he actually does. It may take years to get a good idea whether his radical ideas and unconventional approach works or faisl.

There will be some some successes and some failures. The US and the world waits, with some hoping the pluses outweigh the minuses, and others in dread.

If Trump is true to his word his biggest battle won’t be with immigrants or ISIS or China or Russia, it will be Washington.

How Washington reacts will have a major influence on Trump’s presidency. Washington is probably the biggest bureaucracy in the world.

Saying ‘drain the swamp’ is easy, and it was a successful campaign slogan.

Draining the excesses and inefficiencies, while maintaining and rebuilding a functioning capital, will be a massive task.

Trump has promised to give power to the people.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.

The people have never been the rulers of the nation, they just get to vote occasionally.

The people, or at least some of the people, voted for Trump’s biggest promise – to give them power, for Washington to listen to them and work for them.

This is Trump’s biggest challenge.