Trump invites Putin to White House meeting

Donald Trump seems to have decided to double down on his Helsinki debacle. He says he has invited Vladimir to another meeting, this time in Washington.

It’s hard to know whether eyebrows have been raised again, they stayed raised, or they have just given up oand been plucked.

Reuters: Trump invites Putin to Washington despite U.S. uproar over Helsinki summit

President Donald Trump has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, a daring rebuttal to the torrent of criticism in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin at their first summit for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

NY Times: Trump Invites Putin to Washington, Blindsiding His Intelligence Chief

President Trump plans to invite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to visit Washington in the fall, the White House said Thursday — an invitation that stunned the nation’s top intelligence official, who said he was still groping for details of what the two leaders had discussed in their encounter this week in Helsinki, Finland.

Reuters: Russia ready to discuss Putin Washington visit: Ifax

Russia is ready to discuss a proposed new meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, Interfax news agency cited Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying on Friday.

Meanwhile: Sanctions law behind Putin’s request to Trump for former U.S. officials

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to U.S. President Donald Trump for a joint investigation of former U.S. officials sought by the Kremlin for “illegal activities,” including a U.S. ambassador to Russia, is just the latest effort in a years-long campaign to undermine a U.S. law that imposes financial sanctions on Putin’s officials.

The Hill: White House Rejects Putin Proposal to Interview American Citizens

The White House on Thursday backed off a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin to question U.S. citizens over alleged crimes in Russia after initially indicating President Trump would consider the matter.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

Trump was widely criticised for being a pussy with Putin, so in typical fashion tries to sound like he is really tough: Trump: I’ll Be Putin’s Worst Enemy If Relationship Doesn’t Work Out

  • President Donald Trump vowed in an interview with CNBC that if his dealings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin don’t “work out, I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had.”
  • But he also said that, “Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is postive, not a negative,” Trump said.

Also typically, he is all over the place, saying something for everyone in his support base.

Also typically he tries to portray Obama as weak (he was) in comparison to himself.

  • Trump blasted his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for having been a “patsy for Russia” — while claiming he has been “far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years. Maybe ever”.

Image result for trump russia

Ardern disarmament aims versus Turnbull, Putin and Trump

Three days ago Jacinda Ardern promoted disarmament and arms control, and announced that she would reinstate the Cabinet position of Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control (with Winston peters responsible).

Disarmament and arms control are issues we need to take more action on in today’s global climate, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs in Wellington this morning.

“We will ensure New Zealand’s voice is heard on disarmament and arms control issues by reinstating the Cabinet position of Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control,” says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“The portfolio responsibility will be given to Rt Hon Winston Peters, and is an acknowledgment of the emphasis this government places on our long held anti-nuclear stance, and the role we must play now and in the future,” says the Prime Minister.

The portfolio will include considering the spread of nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons.

“We must recommit ourselves to the cause of non-proliferation and disarmament, and to the norms and rules which support those endeavours,” says the Prime Minister.

The government is also looking at the early ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which New Zealand signed last year.

Today Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull disagreed:

New Zealand is seeking an early ratification of a United Nations nuclear weapons treaty ban, which Australia has refused to sign.

Mr Turnbull maintains the treaty is flawed because it doesn’t cover the world’s nuclear powers.

He said Australia also relies on the deterrent protection from the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal.

“Everyone would like to aspire to a world which is free of nuclear weapons but we have to focus on the here and now,” Mr Turnbull said.

And the here and now: Putin unveils new Russian nuclear missile, says it renders defenses ‘useless’

Russia has a new array of nuclear-capable weapons including an intercontinental ballistic missile that renders defense systems “useless,” President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday.

The ICBM has a longer range than any other and can reach almost any target in the world, Putin said in his annual address to lawmakers and political elites.

Other new technologies he highlighted included supersonic missiles and drone submarines that he said cannot be stopped.

“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development … you have failed to contain Russia,” he said.

He accused the West of “ignoring us. Nobody listened to us. Well listen to us now.”

He boasted that Russia’s new ICBM is “powerful and modern and defense systems will not be able to withstand it,” he said. “Missile defenses will be useless against it.”

“We are not going to take anything away from anybody. We have everything we need,” he said. “Russia’s strong military is a guarantor of peace on our planet.”

However, he warned: “Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies … any kind of attack … will be regarded as a nuclear attack against Russia and in response we will take action instantaneously no matter what the consequences are. Nobody should have any doubt about that.”

America’s nuclear strategy had “raised concerns in Russia,” he said.

Trumps nuclear proclamations have raised concerns in the US and around the world (as will Putin’s):  We need a backup plan for Trump’s nuclear button

For too many Americans, the past year has awoken fears that had faded over the past 30 years. President Donald Trump has threatened to rain “fire and fury” down upon North Korea. He has announced a program to build new and more “usable” nuclear weapons. A recent false alarm in Hawaii of an incoming missile attack sent thousands of families running for cover. Anxieties have risen to the point that a majority of Americans do not trust the president to handle a nuclear crisis.

NBZ:  Putin’s bravado over Russian nukes is emboldened by Trump, analysts say

President Vladimir Putin’s assertion Thursday that Russia is testing a range of new nuclear-powered weaponry reveals a Kremlin that has become increasingly emboldened by the Trump administration and skilled at stoking East-West tensions, analysts say.

“It’s back to the bad old days of Russia trying to claim its glory through having weapons of mass destruction,” said Jeremy Bash, a former chief of staff in the Department of Defense and CIA.

Bash said Putin’s latest campaign to bolster Russia’s military might, announced during his annual state of the nation speech, is loaded with Cold War undertones.

“You see an American foreign policy of weakness about Russia,” he added. “Putin is exploiting that weakness, and he tries to assert strength.”

All this macho bravado might need more than a Vogue puff piece if Ardern is going to stop the world going up in a puff of nuclear smoke.

73% want US election inquiry v Russia

A clear majority of Americans want an independent, non-partisan commission instead of Congress to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

NBC News: 73% Back Independent Probe of Russian Election Interference

Seventy-three percent of respondents prefer the independent investigation, versus 16 percent who pick Congress.

Still, a majority of Americans — 54 percent — believe that Congress should investigate whether there was contact between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, which is essentially unchanged from February’s NBC/WSJ poll.

That’s clear majorities for all but Republicans.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted April 17-20 of 900 adults, including more than 400 who were reached via cell phone. The poll has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.

US general discussion

News or views or issues from the USA.USFlag


Trumps poll approval improved a bit after his missile strike on Syria but now could be  levelling off .

RCPTrumpApproval12April2017

So the military intervention seems to have stopped a poll slide, for now, but there is still a significant approval deficit.

Gorbachev: ‘world is preparing for war’

Mikhail Gorbachev writes in Time ‘It All Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’

The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss.

But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority.

The current situation is too dangerous.

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.

He looks back at the 1980s.

In November 1985, at the first summit in Geneva, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the U.S. declared: Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Our two nations will not seek military superiority. This statement was met with a sigh of relief worldwide.

But there has been a deterioration since then.

Today, however, the nuclear threat once again seems real. Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now. The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands.

We must break out of this situation. We need to resume political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action.

Gorbachev suggests:

I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.

I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.

That looks very unlikely given Trump’s moves to reduce US involvement in the UN.

The world could really do without the sort of war Gorbachev is warning about.

Sweden sees Russian threat

It has been reported that Sweden has become increasingly anxious about a possible threat of Russian attack.

This alongside rising tensions between the US and Russia over allegations of interference in the recent election could be cause for some concern.

The Telegraph: Swedish towns told to ‘make preparations regarding the threat of war and conflict’ with Russia

Sweden’s towns and villages have been ordered to make preparations for a possible military attack in the latest sign of the country’s growing anxiety at its newly belligerent Russian neighbour.

The country’s Civil Contingency Agency (MSB) last week sent a letter to local authorities across the country asking them to maintain operations centres in underground bunkers, ensure that a system of emergency sirens is in place, and to be open to cooperating on war exercises with the Swedish Armed Forces.

“In a state of war,  civil defence for municipalities is no different from any of the other services they should provide,” the letter read, instructing local governments to “ensure their ability to maintain their functions during disturbed situations, and at the most extreme, in a war scenario.”

The dramatic call comes as Sweden returns to the Total Defence Strategy it maintained during the Cold War, reconstituting its old coastal anti-ship missile system, placing an armoured division on the exposed Baltic island of Gotland, and making plans to restart compulsory conscription as early as 2018.

“This strategy is not new. We used it during the Cold War and we are going to now strengthen coordination regarding civil defence,” Magnus Dyberg-Ek, who is leading the civil defence operation for MSB, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

“What is new is that the security situation in our neighbourhood has worsened, and that we must therefore make preparations regarding the threat of war and conflict.”

This must be quite concerning for people in Sweden and Scandinavia.

“There is nothing to suggest that war is likely, but we have been given an order from the government to plan for it,” Svante Werger, the press officer for MSB, told the Sydsvenskan newspaper.

That sounds a bit contradictory.

In 2013, the Russian air force conducted a mock nuclear strike against Sweden during war games which saw a contingent of Russian aircraft approach Swedish airspace after crossing the Gulf of Finland.

This was one of several examples of dummy nuclear attacks against Nato and its allies in recent years, according to a Nato report.

During the election Trump suggested the US under his rule may not support NATO countries if they became involved in conflict.

Does Russia see an opportunities in expanding it’s influence with Donald Trump’s rise to power in the US? Maybe there is no threat to Sweden there could be a few countries in eastern Europe with increasing apprehension.

After the US election Time asked Can NATO Survive a Donald Trump Presidency?

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump has suggested that the world’s most powerful military alliance should be run like an insurance scheme or a protection racket. In a typical remark on the issue this summer, he said allies that don’t “reasonably reimburse” the U.S. for the costs of defense should expect to be told, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

An emerging consensus in Europe has called Trump’s remarks the beginning of the end of the global order that has kept the West united since World War II. At best they mark the start of a bruising renegotiation of the transatlantic friendship. But it’s hard to tell which is closer to Trump’s true intention, because like so many of his policy positions, the statements he has made on NATO have come with plenty of caveats and room for retreat.

During the primary race this spring, he repeatedly called the alliance “obsolete.” But after winning the Republican nomination, he told the New York Times in July that he would like to preserve it, adding that only “fools and haters” would suggest Trump does not want to protect U.S. allies.

The ambiguity has left some room for optimism, at least among the defense experts who are willing to discount Trump’s apparent disdain for the idea of mutual defense. “I think this was politicking,” says Lord David Richards, the former head of the British Armed Forces. “I have every confidence that he will be as resolute on this issue as all U.S. presidents have since the formation of NATO,” he tells TIME.

I think that it’s too soon to have confidence in what Trump may or may not do.

Perhaps more importantly, what Putin may do, taking advantage of Trump’s ambiguity and possible lack of resolve in helping allies in NATO.

If Russia made any more military moves in Europe it’s difficult to guess whether Trump would try to stay uninvolved, or play tough guy and risk escalation, or shock the world with strong, principled and careful standing up to any Russian aggression.

If Trump continues to push the notion that NATO is a commercial enterprise – reliant less on the mutual trust and commitment of its members than on the question of who is picking up the check – he could alienate his European partners so completely that they will have no alliance left to defend. “Everybody will be so frustrated and disappointed with the other side that they will not feel a desire to continue,” says Shapiro. “NATO will become a hollow shell, because nobody will be contributing.”

A lot of that frustration has already begun to show. Even Europe’s typically cautious and understated officials have begun warning that NATO could split down the middle. “It might be that [Trump’s] policy priorities will lead America far away from some of the European basic principles or interests,” Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top official for foreign and security policy, said in an interview televised last week.

International relations are complex and difficult enough in better times. Superpower uncertainty under Trump’s presidency may be opportunistically exploited, and history has proven, escalations can quickly get out of hand.

Especially perhaps when you have egos like Putin’s and Trump’s involved.

Back to Sweden versus Russia – war between them may seem unlikely in the modern world, but in the last Millennium there have been twelve major conflicts between Sweden and Russia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_between_Russia_and_Sweden

Key’s departure “will leave Parliament exposed”

Geoff Miller and Mark Blackham suggest in an NBR article that when John Key leaves Parliament (he has indicated he will stand again next year) the inadequacies of Parliament will become clearer to voters and leave it more exposed to a Trump like reaction.

Key is insulating New Zealand from growing discontent around the world with status democratic systems.

It could also be argued that democracy and government in New Zealand isn’t in as dire a situation as in the UK or the US, where voters have revolted against the same old.

Mr Key is our own populist politician. Like Trump, he is wealthy and not a career politician.

Mr Key’s inherent anti-political nature frequently motivates him to behave in ways which we would not previously have expected from a prime minister.

In some cases, such as in the ponytail affair, MrKey has gone too far and ended up apologising for his actions. But generally, his non-conventional style and willingness to make fun of himself have helped him to stay astonishingly popular – despite being eight years into the top job.

 

Much to the annoyance and frustration of his opponents and especially of left wing activists.

When Mr Key leaves, his populist touch will go with him, exposing the public to a parliament awash with careerist politicians who play it safe, deal in slogans and spin and have no way to forge a genuine bond with voters as Key has done.

The question for many of New Zealand’s MPs ahead of the 2017 election is whether they will heed the lessons of 2016’s Brexit and Trump political earthquakes.

If politicians dish up election campaigns that keep to the stale and uninspiring establishment recipe, they will guarantee and intensify voter backlash.

With Key still in play this may not happen directly in next year’s election, it may still come down to the economy and the Government’s handling of it versus the alternative that looks like it will need to be Labour+Greens+NZ First. Many voters are scared by Labour+Greens let alone the triumverate.

But if National don’t start to show that they recognise real problems with the current way of doing democracy and make genuine and significant moves to address it they could be setting themselves up for a major fall when Key steps down.

Key’s departure may well leave new Zealand exposed to a voters’ revolt.

Politicians versus ordinary people

Professionalised politicians are increasing out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.

This is believed to be a major factor behind the surprising Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US>

Geoff Miller and Mark Blackham make some interesting points in an NBR article on the growing disconnect of parties and Parliament from ordinary people.

New Zealand’s political environment is now largely a professionalised machine. A whole generation of MPs can no longer truly emphasise with many New Zealanders.

A third of New Zealand’s MPs have only ever worked inside the government system. Another third built no real career before they tried to get into Parliament.

So two thirds of MPs don’t have much ‘ordinary New Zealand’ experience in their working lives.

For most current MPs, the secret to being elected is attending a well-regarded secondary school, going to university and joining a political party on campus and finding a job in the public sector or as a political party staffer. After making the necessary connections with the right people inside the parties, the final step simply requires a little behind the scenes manoeuvring to secure a place on a party list or safe seat and make it into Parliament.

 

By failing to forge careers unrelated to politics, the current crop of MPs largely lacks genuine insight into the lives of New Zealanders who live outside the Wellington political establishment.

It has become a career path as opposed to some time out from real life to represent the people.

The insight they do have is handicapped by political and media machines that smooth out language and ideas. Populists like Trump are extreme reactions to these very real inadequacies of the current political choices the machines generate.

Voters are disgruntled with ideology driven by politicians’ agenda rather than by the reality of ordinary lives. They prefer the sincerity of Trump-like passion to the crafted emptiness of professional politicians.

John Key has a bit of the ordinary person touch, warts and all (but nowhere near the warts of Trump).

Who else in Parliament competes with him on that?

Bill English is the opposite, a political insider – but isn’t he one of the perceived strengths of the Government, the steady-as-she-goes money manager?

Andrew Little is struggling to appeal to labouring union type people let alone the wider constituency. Interestingly Annette King is probably Labour’s most respected politician and she has been around for quite a while.

But not as long as Winston Peters – he has nurtured the maverick outsider vote for about a hundred years, but has been part of the political bubble so is hardly a fresh new idea.

Greens are struggling to appeal outside their own bubble, adored within their professional middle class constituency but hardly resonating with the poor they try to represent.

Peter Dunne is as same old as one could get.

Act’s David Seymour is probably the only semi prominent Member of Parliament prepared to buck trends and do things differently. And he has age on his side  – or relative lack of age, born in 1983 compared to Peters born in 1945, over twice as long ago. Seymour is 33, Peters is 71.

Outside Parliament the Cannabis Party have been trying for decades and compete well with the also-rans but will have make a dramatically different impact to get into parliament

The only outsiders on the radar at the moment are Gareth Morgan and his new TOP party, and also the NZ People’s Party who will test their appeal in the Mt Roskill by-election.

New Zealand’s party system along with MMP are an obstacle to populist outsiders, but in the current era of political surprises anything could happen.

 

The Nation – male suicide, housing and US politics

On The Nation this morning…

Auckland housing again:

Has the Government done enough to tackle Auckland’s housing crisis? Newshub’s political editor Patrick Gower asks Housing Minister Nick Smith.

Same old.

Smith says he can’t force private landowners to build.

Smith says the best way to fight land banking is to create a competitive market … cites Chch as an example.

Last year Smith wrote to four developers to ask them to contact the Council with a time frame for development.

Smith sticks by his previous comments that he wants a house price to income multiple of 4.

MBIE figures show it’ll be 2030 before Auckland’s housing shortfall will be met.

Male suicide (‘the silent epidemic’):

Last year 428 New Zealand men took their own lives. Three times more men die by suicide than women, leading some experts to call male suicide a silent epidemic

This week The Nation investigates what causes men to take this step and what can be done to prevent it.

takes a look at a new prevention programme.

NOTE: If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Prevention Helpline on 0508 828 865

And US politics:

And Paddy also talks Trump with Philip Rucker, a Washington Post political correspondent.

says the Trump campaign is “flailing”.

Presidential candidates head to head

Real Clear Politics compares polls for the presidential candidates head to head.

Hillary Clinton:

  • Clinton +10.5 versus Trump
  • Clinton +2.8 versus Cruz
  • Kasich +6.6 versus Clinton

There are some suggestions that if Trump fails to get a delegate majority by the Republican convention Kasich could be promoted as an alternative.

Bernie Sanders:

  • Sanders +16.5 versus Trump
  • Sanders +10.1 versus Cruz
  • Sanders +2.7 versus Kasich

Sanders is clearly preferred over all the Republican candidates (although is close with Kasich) and is also doing much better than Clinton versus the Republicans.

While Trump and Clinton are both clear front runners Sanders versus Kasich look to be the poll’s popular choices.