Hurricane and typhoon watch

There are two major hurricanes in action at the moment – Hurricane Florence weakening as it makes landfall in the eastern US, and Super Typhoon Mangkhut currently bearing down on the Philippines.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in the northern Philippines early Saturday with maximum sustained winds of 270 kph (165 mph) and gusts as high as 325 kph (200 mph), which is the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.

That’s horrendous. The wind is getting very strong here when it gets in the 120-150 kph range, but Mangkhut is twice that.

 

Al Jazeera:  Super typhoon Mangkhut makes landfall in the Philippines

Monster Typhoon Mangkhut has made landfall in the northeastern tip of the Philippines, affecting at least five million people in its path.

Mangkhut, also known as Ompong in the Philippines, made landfall at around 17:40 GMT on Friday (01:40 am Saturday, local time), according to the Philippine weather bureau, PAGASA.

It retained its ferocious strength on Friday, but gained speed while shifting towards a number of densely populated provinces, where a large evacuation was carried out earlier in the day.

The Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center categorised Mangkhunt as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.

In comparison, Hurricane Florence, which is currently lashing the US East Coast, is classified as category 1 storm.

It is packing winds of up to 205 kilometer per hour and gusts up to 255km/h, PAGASA said. But the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said maximum winds could reach 268km/h and wind gusts of up to about 324km/h.

After it passes the Philippines it will head towards Hong Kong:

In the Us Hurricane Florence wind strengths have eased substantially but widespread flooding and disruption is still expected.

Fox News: Hurricane Florence moving slowly, but ‘wreaking havoc’ across Carolinas

Slow moving and powerful Hurricane Florence is “wreaking havoc” across the Carolinas as the Category 1 storm continues to dump massive amounts of rain that could trigger catastrophic floods inland.

Once a Category 4 hurricane, a weakened but still-dangerous Florence is now making its way south along the Carolina coast at about 6 mph with sustained winds of 80 mph – pushing life-threatening storm surges miles inland, ripping down parts of buildings and knocking out power to more than a half-million homes and businesses early Friday.

The center of Florence made technical landfall at about 7:15 a.m. on Friday near Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Florence’s storm surge and the prospect of 1 to 3½ feet of rain were considered a bigger threat than its winds, which dropped off from an alarming 140 mph earlier in the week. Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls westward across the Carolinas all weekend.

Forecasters said the terrifying onslaught would last for several hours, because Florence was barely moving along and still drawing energy from the ocean. They said “catastrophic” freshwater flooding was expected along waterways throughout the Carolinas.

“Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of significant threat from heavy rain and heavy surge,” said Jeff Byard, an administrator with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Those citizens who did not heed evacuation warnings, it’s time to stay where you are, do the best that you can to protect yourself.”


Weatherwatch: Has NZ ever experienced Cat5 winds?

In 1968 a former tropical cyclone called Giselle was tracking across the North Island.  At the same time a polar storm was racing out of the Southern Ocean.  The two collided over Wellington creating what is known as the “perfect storm”.

It was this storm that sunk the Wahine ferry in Wellington harbour as it blasted the capital with hurricane force winds.  NIWA records show winds gusted to 275km/h – which is equal to a category 5 cyclone.  Around 100 homes lost their roofs.

But the winds were very different to a cat 5 cyclone.  With a cyclone, the strong winds are generated around the eye of the storm over open water.  In this case it was the merger of the two systems and Wellington’s localised topography that created the incredible winds – and they only existed as this strength in one part of Wellington.

It was the first and only time winds of that speed were recorded in New Zealand.

But from a NIWA employee:

The 275 km/h is a reference to a 3-s gust speed from a Munro anemometer located at Oteranga Bay during the storm. I’ve always understood that this reading was highly questionable due to an issue with the anemometer at that site at the time of the storm. I’ve double-checked with Steve Reid (retired employee of NIWA and before 1992 MetService) who was the wind-expert at both institutions for several decades. He had in the past checked the instrument file for Oteranga Bay and noted that the next technical visit to the site after the Wahine storm had remarks that a “substitution resistor was missing from the installation” and this would result in speeds 25% too high.  The resistor was used in installations where no dial was in the circuit. For this reason, the observation is highly questionable at best, and should not really be accepted as a record.  – NIWA

That would make the maximum gust closer to 200 km/h, still very strong but nothing like Mangkhut.

Preliminary US-Mexico trade deal, Canada uncertain

The United States and Mexico have reached a preliminary trade agreement designed to replace NAFTA, but there is uncertainty over where this puts Canada, who were also a part of NAFTA.

Fox (via Christian Whiton, whowas a senior advisor in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations): Trump replaces NAFTA and triumphs — New trade deal with Mexico is YUGE win for both countries

President Trump won a major victory on trade on Monday, supplanting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and replacing it with something far more beneficial. The new deal will help American workers and manufacturers. It’s also a win for Mexico.

One of the most fundamental parts of Trump’s campaign for president was his promise to change America’s deeply flawed trade arrangements.

Second only to the booming economy, Monday’s announcement of a deal with Mexico is the most visible manifestation of Trump’s fulfilment of his campaign promises.

This victory will lead to others.  The leftwing government of Canada, the other member of NAFTA, had refused to negotiate seriously, perhaps believing their friends in the progressive commentariat predicting Trump’s demise.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, spent most of her time on visits to the U.S. lobbying governors and congressmen rather than talking seriously to our trade negotiators.  Her boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, even though it was a good idea to antagonize Trump at his failed G7 summit in June.

Canada must now return, hat in hand, for a deal.  If not, Trump will advance the deal with Mexico and leave Canada behind.

The European Union and China will also be greatly concerned about the Mexico deal—and more likely to negotiate seriously.

I’m not sure why the European Union and China will be concerned by this.

The deal with Mexico and Canada’s likely about-face puts pressure on Europe to level the playing field for trade or face higher tariffs.

The same factors apply to China, which is dependent on selling goods to the USA and stealing our companies’ intellectual property.

Trump has utterly flipped the script with China, which our elite effectively told us would supplant us economically and strategically, and with which we had to accept unfair trade factors. Now, China is reeling and American is ascendant. Those who bet on China over the USA chose poorly.

I’m not sure that repairing relations with Mexico and reaching a preliminary trade agreement with them will have that much impact.

New York Times has less of a cheerleader report: Preliminary Nafta Deal Reached Between U.S. and Mexico

The United States and Mexico have reached agreement to revise key portions of the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, a crucial step toward revamping a trade pact that has appeared on the brink of collapse during the past year of negotiations.

The agreement with Mexico gives Mr. Trump a significant win in a trade war he has started with countries around the globe but it falls far short of actually revising Nafta. The preliminary agreement still excludes Canada, which has been absent from talks held in Washington in recent weeks.

“They used to call it Nafta,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to call it the United States Mexico Trade Agreement,” adding that the term Nafta had “a bad connotation” for the United States, which he said had been taken advantage of by the trade deal.

Typically odd comments from Trump. NAFTA was a three country agreement, this is a two party agreement.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Mr. Nieto said that he had also spoken to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, and that he was working toward a three-way agreement with the United States and Canada by the end of the week.

“I expressed the importance of his reinstatement in the process,” Mr. Peña Nieto said in Spanish about Mr. Trudeau, “in order to conclude a trilateral negotiation this week.”

Odd also that this has been announced before agreement has been reached with Canada. Their inclusion may be some time away.

Mr. Trump, however, seemed to hedge the possibility, saying “we’ll see if Canada can be part” of any deal, and that separate negotiations would start soon.

Mr. Trump said that he would be calling Mr. Trudeau “very soon” but then immediately groused that the country issued 300 percent tariffs on American dairy products. The president suggested that the United States might add tariffs to Canadian car imports in response, reiterating a threat he has used frequently to push trade partners to the negotiation table.

While Canada has not been a party to recent discussions, the potential for a two-country deal appears highly unlikely, given opposition by Mexico, American lawmakers and North American industries whose supply chains rely on all three countries.

Instead, Mr. Trump’s threats against Canada could prove to be a negotiating tactic.

On Monday, Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said that Canada is “encouraged” by progress between Mexico and the United States but that “we will only sign a new NAFTA that is good for Canada and good for the middle class.”

On Friday, Ms. Freeland said that Canada would be “happy” to rejoin the talks once the United States and Mexico had made progress on their specific issues. “Once the bilateral issues get resolved, Canada will be joining the talks to work on both bilateral issues and our trilateral issues,” Ms. Freeland said.

This sounds like an odd way to work towards a three country trade agreement.

Both the Mexicans and Americans have been eager to reach a fully revised Nafta deal by the end of August, a date that would give the Trump administration enough time to notify Congress that a deal had been finalized and still have that deal be signed by the outgoing Mexican administration of Enrique Peña Nieto. That goal now looks doubtful, given Canada’s recent absence from the negotiating table.

Still, progress in the negotiations with Mexico will come as a relief to American businesses that depend on trade agreements and have been shaken by Mr. Trump’s confrontational approach to America’s biggest trading partners.

So this looks like a promising step, but it hardly looks likely to lead to a world trade revolution.

Shooting at Florida video game tournament in Florida

There has been another mass shooting in the US, this time at a national video game tournament that was being live streamed. Two people have been murdered, and the gunman also killed himself.

Reuters: Multiple fatalities in shooting at video game tournament in Florida: sheriff

There was a mass shooting at a video game tournament that was being streamed online from a restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday, and the local sheriff’s office said there were multiple fatalities.

“Stay far away from the area. The area is not safe,” the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter. “We can’t stress enough to stay away. Many blocks away.”

Local media, citing police sources, said four people were killed and about 10 wounded.

The sheriff’s office said one suspect was dead at the scene and that it was unknown whether there was a second suspect. “Searches are being conducted,” the sheriff’s office said.

The shooting took place at a restaurant at Jacksonville Landing, a waterfront dining, entertainment and shopping site in downtown Jacksonville, according to local media.

The business was livestreaming a tournament for a Madden football video game when several shots rang out, according to video of the stream shared on social media.

This will no doubt reignite debate over gun laws in the US, in a now familiar pattern of outrage, subsidence, another shooting, outrage and so  on with nothing much changing.

This particular attack is also likely to prompt further debate on the possible effects of gaming – which often involves shooting – on people’s attitudes to shooting people for fun, despite this tournament being focussed on football.

The Gun Violence Archive current statistics for 2018:

  • Number of deaths: 9,501
  • Mass shootings: 234

Incidents in 2018

Lame predictable responses from Trump under increasing pressure

Donald Trump is facing increasing pressures after Paul Manafort and especially Michael Cohen are now guilty of fairly serious crimes, and face years in prison. Manafort was locked up before his trial, and Cohen has made an agreement with prosecutors of a 4-6 year prison sentence.

Manafort has kept a distance between his problems and Trump, and Trump has done likewise.

Not so Cohen, who along with his lawyer has directly implicated Trump in electoral crime. So Trump has been predictable in attacking Cohen on Twitter in response, attack is his usual form of defence.

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!

A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!

The ‘witch hunt’ claims are getting stale. Eight guilty verdicts, on top of other successes, are signs of a successful Mueller investigation so far.

Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!

Either ignorance or lying about the campaign finance violations, and then the usual diversion to another target.

Mueller and various investigators won’t care about what Trump tweets, unless they gather than as further evidence. The President is flailing futilely on Twitter.

Fox News kept cheerleading Trump yesterday on Twitter and via sycophants like Hannity, but also looked at the serious side of what Trump faces.

Their current headline article:

Will Cohen’s bombshell admissions sink Trump? Here’s what top legal experts say

UNCOMMON PLEAS

Will Cohen’s bombshell admissions sink Trump? Here’s what top legal experts say

Michael Cohen’s plea deal chucked a live political grenade into the debate over President Trump’s legal exposure – but that debate is far from settled, as experts clash over whether his implication of the president in campaign finance violations will amount to anything.

The president’s former longtime personal attorney and self-described “fixer” entered a guilty plea with federal prosecutors on Tuesday, admitting to violating campaign finance laws by arranging hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump.

Trump, though, claimed the move to pay off the two women was not a crime — while suggesting such allegations can be settled by fine.

Trump has now notably not denied the payments were made, and has switched to claiming it isn’t a crime and it can be easily settled.

But Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, argued there is little room for interpretation here.

“There is no question that he’s committed a federal crime,” Davis told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Wednesday. He also argued that it’s never been settled whether a sitting president can be indicted, despite suggestions to the contrary from Trump allies.

Davis added that his client, under oath on Tuesday, admitted to making the “donations to keep quiet two women” at Trump’s direction.

Mr. Trump wasn’t willing to sign those checks himself. He directed Mr. Cohen to make those hush money payments, [which is] a federal crime,” Davis said. “If Michael Cohen agreed to that, then certainly Donald Trump is guilty of the same crime.”

But Fox found people who backed Trump’s claim.

But former commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, Hans von Spakovsky, said that Cohen’s decision to plead guilty does not necessarily mean Trump violated the law.

“This is not a violation because this was not a campaign-related offense,” Spakovsky told Fox News on Wednesday. “Yes, Cohen pleaded guilty to it, yeah Cohen paid it, but then Cohen was reimbursed by Trump.”

The plea deal states that the payments were in fact meant to influence the election, though that could be argued by Trump’s lawyers if it ever came to that. Spakovsky said Trump had a history of making these kinds of payments before he was a candidate.

Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, a frequent defender of the president, made a similar argument.

“You have to show that it’s a crime,” he told “Fox & Friends.” He said it’s “not a crime” for a candidate like Trump to contribute to his own campaign, and probably not even a crime to direct someone else to contribute if he plans to pay that back.

Further, Dershowitz said, “The only evidence that the president did anything that might be unlawful … comes from a man who’s admitted to be a liar.”

“There are a lot of barriers,” he said, “We’re far away from [an] impeachable offense or a criminal offense on the part of the president.”

Still, at this stage, it doesn’t look flash for Trump. His denials keep changing as information is revealed.

Who can trust Trump’s claims there was ‘no collusion’. He’s well known as a liar, and has just been proven to have lied again over the hush money.

Richard Painter, former White House chief ethics counsel under former President George W. Bush, said that while Cohen’s guilty plea gives Trump “exposure” to criminal prosecution, these types of cases “can be difficult to win.”

“It is not entirely clear how these cases turn out, as we found out with Edwards,” Painter told Fox News. He added, though, that he felt the Cohen-Trump payments were “more serious” than former President Bill Clinton lying about Monica Lewinsky, as “campaign finance is more important to our democracy than the president lying under oath in a civil case.”

Painter added that while there is “potential criminal liability,” it is “not cut and dry.” He suggested Trump’s problems go beyond Cohen.

“If you had a president with no other legal problems, who just had the Cohen problem, I would say the outcome of a criminal trial for Trump, based on that alone, is a maybe, maybe not situation,” Painter explained.

“But Trump’s problem is not just this. He has the whole Russia thing. He has two big problems. One, is what his own involvement or knowledge of collusion was, and the second, where he has much more exposure, and is digging his own grave, is obstruction of justice.”

The Paul Manafort guilty verdicts were distant enough to Trump’s campaign to be easy to dismiss as just a poor choice of campaign manager – if they were the only thing in the news.

But added to the Cohen please and claims, and all the other guilty please and bargaining, Trump’s legal problems are snowballing. His persistent lying peppers the snowball with stones.

Professor of law at George Washington University Jonathan Turley, though, said Trump could end up an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Cohen matter.

On Wednesday, he agreed that the Cohen plea alone would not make “a particularly strong case,” but suggested there’s more to come.

“You have the president’s lawyer implicating him in a federal crime. How Trump responds to that is going to be very key,” Turley said on “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday. “But the Justice Department certifies that they believe these allegations are accurate. That should be quite chilling, because this isn’t some immaculate crime committed by Cohen alone.”

Turley said that federal prosecutors, now, will likely pursue other “collateral or central players.”

This is only an escalation in legal exposure for Trump. The snowball keeps growing, and his tweets are legally impotent, and potentially legally damaging.

Mixed messages in US sanctions on Russia

Donald Trump has indicated he wants to improve relations with Russia, as the US have imposed fresh sanctions on Russia for cyber-related activities.

CBS News: Trump open to lifting Russia sanctions, “most likely” to meet Kim Jong Un again

President Trump on Monday said he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if Moscow were to take steps towards working with the U.S. on issues like Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Trump made the comments in an interview with Reuters.

It’s yet unclear exactly what kind of steps Mr. Trump would require to ease such sanctions. Mr. Trump insists he has been tougher on Russia than any other president, despite the laudatory way he speaks of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian response (Reuters):  Actions better than words, says Russia after Trump offer

The Kremlin said on Tuesday it welcomed statements by U.S. President Donald Trump indicating a desire to cooperate with Russia, but that it would welcome concrete steps to improve relations more.

Trump has repeatedly said he would like better ties with Moscow, but despite meeting President Vladimir Putin last month, relations have come under further strain as Washington announced new sanctions.

“We of course welcome statements that affirm a readiness to cooperate, but we would welcome even more some kind of concrete actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the Kremlin would like to hear more details from the United States on any proposed cooperation in Syria and Ukraine, and that Kiev should also take positive steps.

“We need to be specific about what is expected from Russia in terms of Ukraine, and why nothing is expected from the Ukrainian authorities,” he said.

But at the same time U.S. imposes fresh sanctions for Russian cyber-related activity

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two Russians, one Russian company and one Slovakian company for what Washington said were their actions to help another Russian company avoid sanctions over the country’s malicious cyber-related activities.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that the sanctioned companies, Saint Petersburg-based Vela-Marine Ltd and Slovakia-based Lacno S.R.O., and the two individuals helped Divetechnoservices evade previously imposed sanctions.

In a statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the latest sanctions groundless and promised a response from Moscow.

Ryabkov’s criticism extended to separate sanctions Washington imposed on Tuesday on two Russian shipping companies that it said were involved in transferring refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels in violation of Unite Nations restrictions.

IOt’s hard to see any progress on better US relations while more sanctions are being imposed. No wonder Putin asked for action rather than words from Trump on lifting sanctions.

Trump in Twitter tirade overdrive – who’s panicking?

If we were watching this unfold from some other country, we’d question the US president’s wellness. “Is the president okay?”

Most countries with respectable democracies with appropriate separations between the government and the judiciary would be (or should be) somewhat concerned if a leader ran an ongoing campaign against a legal inquiry and court cases.

But Donald Trump has worked himself into a position where saying outlandish things is just presidenting as usual.

Recent Twitter tirades:

I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!

The failing wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type “RAT.” But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide and have demanded transparency so that this Rigged and Disgusting Witch Hunt can come to a close. So many lives have been ruined over nothing – McCarthyism at its WORST! Yet Mueller & his gang of Dems refuse to look at the real crimes on the other side – Media is even worse.

No Collusion and No Obstruction, except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. All of the resignations and corruption, yet heavily conflicted Bob Mueller refuses to even look in that direction. What about the Brennan, Comey, McCabe, Strzok lies to Congress, or Crooked’s Emails!

The Failing New York Times wrote a story that made it seem like the White House Councel had TURNED on the President, when in fact it is just the opposite – & the two Fake reporters knew this. This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People. So bad for America!

So the enemy of the truth continues with his ‘enemy of the people’ attacks.

Some members of the media are very Angry at the Fake Story in the New York Times. They actually called to complain and apologize – a big step forward. From the day I announced, the Times has been Fake News, and with their disgusting new Board Member, it will only get worse!

Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!

That’s preposterous, and dangerous rhetoric from a president.

Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel, only with my approval, for purposes of transparency.

Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone looking for trouble. They are enjoying ruining people’s lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side – the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more! Mueller’s Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!

Who is the national disgrace?

Where’s the Collusion? They made up a phony crime called Collusion…

I think it’s Trump who made up a claim there was a crime called collusion.

…and when there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony crime that never existed). If you FIGHT BACK or say anything bad about the Rigged Witch Hunt, they scream Obstruction!

I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA Director in our country’s history, brings a lawsuit. It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, emails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with the Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt. He won’t sue!

Everybody wants to keep their Security Clearance, it’s worth great prestige and big dollars, even board seats, and that is why certain people are coming forward to protect Brennan. It certainly isn’t because of the good job he did! He is a political “hack.”

He seems to be trying to make it sound like revoking security clearance is a prestige damaging punishment.

Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!

“Bruce Ohr is at the center of FALSE ALLEGATIONS which led to a multi-million dollar investigation into what apparently didn’t happen.” Darrell Issa, House Oversight. We can take out the word “apparently.”

It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China. We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT – and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!

A switch to something else. Why doesn’t he do something, rather than waste time and credibility tweeting?

Image result for madness of king trump

 

Trump adds Turkey to his trade wars

Donald Trump is widening his use of tariff threats and imposition of ad hoc tariffs. now targeting Turkey.

Given Trump’s record of withdrawing from or attempting to renegotiate trade agreements, and his spraying around of tariff threats and the ad hoc imposition of tariffs, it will be difficult for the world of trade to have any certainty in what the US may do in the future.

Businesses tend to hate this sort of uncertainty.

Trump is not just using trade weapons to try to drive more favourable deals for the US, he is using them as a punishment.

Washington Post: Trump takes aim at Turkey, announcing doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs in effort to punish country

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Friday against those who try to “bully” his country, as an announcement by President Trump imposing new tariffs on Turkey sent its currency into free fall.

“The language of threats and blackmail cannot be used against this nation,” Erdogan said in apparent response to Trump’s early-morning tweet saying he was doubling existing U.S. import levies on Turkish steel and aluminum. “Those who assume they can bring us to our knees through economic manipulations don’t know our nation at all,” he said, without directly mentioning Trump or the tariffs.

But the U.S. announcement quickly sent the value of the Turkish lira, already under severe strain, to a record low against the U.S. dollar. The currency crisis has fueled growing concerns in the international financial community and among investors about the health of the Turkish economy.

Trump’s willingness to ratchet up the financial pain on Turkey followed an unsuccessful effort this week to resolve the ongoing dispute between the two countries over Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held on charges that include espionage and trying to overthrow the government.

This seems to be just how trump does things. For Trump, sanctions substitute for foreign policy

For all the talk of “fire and fury” we once heard from President Trump, his administration’s most-frequently used weapons have been not have been explosive — they’ve been financial.

Since entering office, Trump has often used economic sanctions (and, concurrently, tariffs) in an attempt to bend other countries to his will. The administration feels, with some justification, that tough sanctions brought North Korea to the negotiating table.

Now Trump hopes that reinstating sanctions on Iran will also force that country to bargain with the United States and craft a new nuclear deal.

But the evidence that these sanctions are working as a foreign-policy tool isn’t convincing. And there is considerable concern that the Trump administration is overusing them while neglecting other important facets of foreign policy, like simple negotiations or coordination with allies.

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello recently outlined just how prevalent sanctions have become in the Trump era in a recent article. She found that during just one month — February 2018 — the United States had imposed sanctions not only on North Korea, but also groups or individuals in Colombia, Libya, Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Lebanon and more.

Though their use may be increasing, sanctions are not a new idea — they date back hundreds of years, if not further. Yet academic research has found that they often don’t work as intended. One study looked at 200 sanctions from between 1914 and 2008 and found only 13 that were clearly instrumental in achieving their creators’ aims.

The problem isn’t necessarily that they can’t inflict financial damage on a foe (given the power the United States holds over the global economy, that much is now a given). Instead, the issue is that this damage doesn’t always contribute to any logical foreign policy goal.

Using tariffs and sanctions is a heavy handed way of trying to get what Trump wants – there may be some successes in the short term, but damaging the finances of countries can have much wider effects (like for international investors and those who trade with the targeted country).

And Trump risks burning a lot of diplomatic bridges. Establishing a record of mistrust and unreliability may end up biting the United States on the bum.

 

Trade war and Trump praise continue

The US-China trade war continues to escalate, Donald Trump claims “some really super” GDP growth and praises himself, but warnings there are from within the US.

USA Today: Trump escalates trade war with 25 percent tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese goods

The Trump administration announced Tuesday it is moving forward with a 25 percent tariff on $16 billion in Chinese goods, further escalating a trade war with Beijing.

The tariffs are the second round of duties that the U.S. has imposed on Chinese goods in a dispute over technology. An initial round of tariffs was placed on $34 billion of Chinese products on July 6.

More tariffs could be coming soon

President Donald Trump earlier proposed 10 percent tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports. Last week, he instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to consider more than doubling those duties to 25 percent. Those tariffs could be levied in September, following a public comment period.

The latest round of tariffs comes during a breakdown of trade talks between the Trump administration and Beijing and amid a growing trade dispute that has rattled global markets.

CBA News: Trump predicts GDP growth above 5 percent next quarter

President Trump predicted Tuesday that gross domestic product growth in the next quarter “could be in the 5s” — that is, higher than 5 percent.

Mr. Trump made the bold prediction Tuesday evening before a dinner at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort with leaders from FedEx, Mastercard, Boeing, PepsiCo and other companies.

The president also hailed his own economic and trade policies, saying he is “taking our economy to incredible new heights” in spite of fears of damage from the escalating trade disputes he has provoked.

“You’re gonna see some really super growth,” he promised.

The government reported last month that the economy grew at a rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years.

That’s good for now, but risks are also growing, as is US debt.

He acknowledged, “We’re in a little bit of a fight with China” over tariffs, but predicted a “fantastic trading relationship” eventually.

Maybe. Or it could turn to trade and economic custard.

At the end of his remarks, President Trump asked the business leaders to introduce themselves. The introductions began to resemble the scene at many of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet meetings, in which the president’s appointees take turns praising him. Trump jokingly noted that everyone at the dinner appeared to like him.

Trump seems to have a need to keep seeking praise. His oversized ego needs to be continually propped up, usually by orchestrated meetings.

But there are concerns within the US.

Washington Examiner: Trump’s trade war has Indiana on edge

President Trump’s trade policies are sending tremors across Indiana, as voters reliant on the agriculture and manufacturing industries that are the backbone of a thriving state economy brace for the fallout from retaliatory tariffs being slapped on U.S. exports.

Trump’s aggressive imposing of tariffs on foreign imports to negotiate more favorable trading terms for American products threatens to upend a strong Indiana economy that exports $4.6 billion annually in agriculture commodities, according to government figures.

Indiana also is a manufacturing hub that sustains hundreds of thousands of factory jobs. That’s why the Republicans that dominate politics here, and the voters they represent, are growing anxious as the disputes with China and other countries that Trump instigated and, once boasted would be easy to win, show signs of escalating into a full blown trade war.

“The ag community is extremely nervous,” Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, a Republican who oversees the state department of agriculture, said this week in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “It seems to be our president’s modus operandi to push issues to get a agreeable settlement. We are hopeful that that is what is happening here.”

Conceding the initial pain his policies could inflict, the president has proposed a $12 billion federal bailout to keep the agriculture industry afloat during what could be protracted negotiations.

Trump has urged patience, promising jittery Republicans and loyal supporters in farm country that the administration’s strategy will pay big long-term dividends. Conceding the initial pain his policies could inflict, the president has proposed a $12 billion federal bailout to keep the agriculture industry afloat during what could be protracted negotiations.

Republicans are hesitant to criticize Trump, preferring a united front — and hoping to avoid his Twitter wrath — heading into the midterm elections. But privately, they are concerned Trump’s trade agenda and liberal use of tariffs could be a drag on the economy less than 100 days before the vote.

A warning sign: Trump’s Trade War Is Killing American Blue Jeans

It’s the latest gut punch for an industry that had already declined into a shell of what it once was. In the past year, two of the last-standing major denim mills closed, including the biggest: Cone Denim’s facility in Greensboro, North Carolina, that many firms say was the last to make high-end denim fabric in the U.S. on a large scale. Increases in California’s minimum wage also helped drive several apparel factories in Los Angeles to shutter or move to Mexico, adding to a tumultuous year for an industry that’s been just hanging on.

On top of that, free-trade agreements had been pushing blue jean-making overseas for two decades, and now the remaining manufacturers can’t believe the irony of getting hit by a return to protectionism. Major brands, like Levi Strauss & Co., had already largely bailed, shifting almost all of their production to Asia or Mexico.

Another warning sign: South Carolina’s first tariffs casualty: Television factory in Winnsboro closes, lays off 126

A television maker in Winnsboro that uses Chinese components for its assembly operation has announced that increased costs related to tariffs are forcing it to shut down.

Element Electronics’ plant just north of Columbia is the first in South Carolina to close as a direct result of the emerging global trade war, according to a governor’s office spokesman.

Gov. Henry McMaster called the plant’s closure “a sad moment” as it is the only TV manufacturer in the United States. But he also offered cautious support of President Donald Trump’s tariffs strategy, saying that trade around the world needs to be free, open and fair.

“I am hoping that when all the work is done and all the facts are known, that the businesses and industries in South Carolina will not be hurt but instead will prosper,” he said.

Maybe this is just a bit of collateral damage on the way to better trade relations with China. But it could also be an warning sign – not that Trump is likely to take any notice. He seems intent on using threats and disruption to try and drive better bargains, and is confident he will win, but there is going to be losers as well.

Trump’s “enemy of the people’ attacks teetering on tyranny

Donald Trump has frequently attacked ‘the media’, interchanging ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’. The latter puts him in quite bad company. Lenin Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, and Hitler, and more recently in Venezuela, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Trump has been doing it since the start of his presidency.

NY Times (17 February 2017): Trump Calls the News Media the ‘Enemy of the American People’

President Trump, in an extraordinary rebuke of the nation’s press organizations, wrote on Twitter on Friday that the nation’s news media “is the enemy of the American people.”

Even by the standards of a president who routinely castigates journalists — and who on Thursday devoted much of a 77-minute news conference to criticizing his press coverage — Mr. Trump’s tweet was a striking escalation in his attacks.

USA Today (24 February 2017): Trump again calls media ‘enemy of the people’

President Trump turned his speech before a conservative convention into a full-throated attack on journalism Friday, saying some reporters make up unnamed sources for “fake news” and again describing them as “the enemy” of the American people.

“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are — they are the enemy of the people,” Trump told the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

While praising some reporters as honest, and pledging fealty to the First Amendment, Trump claimed that “the fake news media doesn’t tell the truth.” He said reporters should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, and “we’re going to do something about it.”

And on Friday (2 August 2018):

So Trump has hept portraying ‘a large percentage of the media’ (media that doesn’t say what he wants) as “the enemy of the people”.  This is an insidious assault on an imperfect and essential part of a free and open democracy.

And it is a tactic that has been done by tyrants and dictators in the past.

Brookings: Enemy of the People

In Enemy of the People, Marvin Kalb, an award-winning American journalist with more than six decades of experience both as a journalist and media observer, writes with passion about why we should fear for the future of American democracy because of the unrelenting attacks by the Trump administration on the press.

Shortly after assuming office in January 2017, President Donald Trump accused the press of being an “enemy of the American people.” Attacks on the media had been a hallmark of Trump’s presidential campaign, but this charge marked a dramatic turning point: language like this ventured into dangerous territory.

Twentieth-century dictators—notably, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao—had all denounced their critics, especially the press, as “enemies of the people.” Their goal was to delegitimize the work of the press as “fake news” and create confusion in the public mind about what’s real and what isn’t; what can be trusted and what can’t be.

Image result for cartoon enemy of the people

@BriaanKlaas:

Trump continues to call the press “the enemy of the people,” which is both disgusting and dangerous. To understand why, let’s look at the history of that sinister phrase, who has used it in the past, why, and how it fosters a higher likelihood of violence against journalists.

The modern origins of the phrase are from the French Revolution’s “reign of terror,” when people were beheaded en masse. But it resurged during the Nazi era, when Hitler referred to the “lying press” and called Jews “the enemy of the people.” But, it keeps getting worse.

It’s a Soviet phrase too, something Lenin started and Stalin continued. For Stalin, labeling someone an “enemy of the people,” meant internment at a forced labor camp and sometimes death. The term was *too extreme* for Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced it *in the 1950s.*

Mao used the phrase regularly too to label anyone who opposed his rule as an “enemy of the people.” The consequences of that label were also dire and often led to death. Mao was a murderous dictator who killed nearly 40 million people.

In modern times, other dictators have used the phrase too. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez labeled critical media outlets as “enemies of the homeland,” in the same vein. Are you beginning to see a pattern in what type of regime calls its critics the “enemy of the people?”

The phrase has also been deployed against the press in places as diverse as Myanmar (when it was ruled purely by a military junta) and Zimbabwe (when it was ruled by longtime dictator Robert Mugabe)

There is a reason that the phrase “enemy of the people” has been almost exclusively deployed by murderous dictators. To use it to describe the free press, which is a pillar of every democracy, is particularly sinister. Trump is borrowing a phrase from the worst of the worst.

In my field research, I’ve interviewed several authoritarian leaders who admit that they do *what they can get away with* when it comes to destroying the press. The White House used to be the deterrent, threatening consequences to regimes that harassed or attacked journalists.

Calling the press “the enemy of the people” encourages violence against journalists in the US. Keep in mind that he has also called the free press “a stain on America,” and “scum.” People listen to him. And a lot of crazy people with guns listen to him too.

Trump’s anti-press rhetoric puts him in a category with Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Hitler & Chavez. This isn’t partisan. Democracy can’t survive without a free press. Authoritarianism requires the press to be crushed or cowed. Trump’s rhetoric is disgusting, dangerous, and must end.

I doubt it will end. Trump plays by his own rules as much as he can.

And it isn’t just Trump. He has his lackeys supporting his attacks on media – see Sarah Huckabee Sanders refuses to dispute claim that media is ‘enemy’ of the people.

And Trump has recruited an army of supporters who make excuses and defend his assaults on the media, and attack ‘the media’, and denigrate and try to discredit those who condemn his insidious attacks.

So does he see media that holds him to account is an enemy of his ambitions? Or an enemy of his ego?

I think it’s both. His presidency is teetering on tyranny.

US democratic dysfunction continues

Facebook says it has identified further attempts to use social media to interfere with US elections, while Robert Mueller has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York – as this involves people associated with Democrats as well as Republicans President Trump should at least be partially supportive of legally confronting the swamp.

NY Times: Facebook Identifies an Active Political Influence Campaign Using Fake Accounts

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified a political influence campaign that was potentially built to disrupt the midterm elections, with the company detecting and removing 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in activity around divisive social issues.

The company did not definitively link the campaign to Russia. But Facebook officials said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked group that was at the center of an indictment this year alleging interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said it had discovered coordinated activity around issues like a sequel to last year’s deadly “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Activity was also detected around #AbolishICE, a left-wing campaign on social media that seeks to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The dream of the Internet enabling a revolution in ordinary people involvement in democracy has become an electoral nightmare in the US.

And we are not immune from it in New Zealand, but the greatest risk here is probably self inflicted wounds by ‘social justice warriors’ and political activists trying to impose their views and policies on everyone else, and trying to shut down speech they don’t like or they disagree with.

Also in the US, illicit foreign lobbying is in the spotlight with the trial of Paul Manafort under way – Manafort on trial: A scorched-earth prosecutor and not a mention of Trump

The nation’s inaugural look at special counsel Mueller’s team in action started with a bang. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, brought onto the special counsel’s staff from the Alexandria federal prosecutor’s office for this case, faced the jury and declared: “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him.”

With more than a dozen of his colleagues from the federal investigation alongside and behind him, Asonye recovered quickly, keeping jurors riveted through a 26-minute opening statement that portrayed Manafort as someone who lied about his taxes, his income, his business, and a litany of other topics.

Only once, toward the end of the first day, did anyone mention the words “special counsel.” Zehnle said it, casually, in passing, with no reference to Trump or Russia or any of the political firestorm that has dominated the news for all of this presidency.

Yet the reason the courtroom was packed, the reason an overflow courtroom three stories below was also full, the reason the lawn in front of the building was given over to TV crews in their ritual encampment awaiting news, the reason for all of this was the cases yet to come, the deeper layers of the onion.

And three more lobbyists are also under investigation – Mueller Passes 3 Cases Focused on Illicit Foreign Lobbying to Prosecutors

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has referred three investigations into possible illicit foreign lobbying by Washington insiders to federal prosecutors in New York who are already handling the case against President Trump’s former lawyer, according to multiple people familiar with the cases.

The cases cut across party lines, focusing on both powerful Democratic and Republican players in Washington, including one whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted — the Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta. The cases are unlikely to provoke an outburst from Mr. Trump similar to the one he unleashed in April after prosecutors raided the home and office of Michael D. Cohen, then the president’s lawyer. But these cases do represent a challenge to Washington’s elite, many of whom have earned rich paydays lobbying for foreign interests.

They also tie into the special counsel investigation of Mr. Trump: All three cases are linked to Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, whose trial on financial fraud charges began Tuesday in Alexandria, Va.

Under American law, anyone who lobbies or conducts public relations on behalf of a foreign interest in the United States must register with the Justice Department. The law carries stiff penalties, including up to five years in prison. But it had rarely been enforced, and thus widely ignored, until recently.

Trump should be happy that the political swamp of Washington is at least under scrutiny, albeit a long way from being drained.

Image result for monster swamp washington

The jury is still out on whether Trump is going to monster the swamp, or if he is a monster of the swamp.

But it is obvious that dysfunction in US democracy is a long way from being rectified, if that is at all possible.